It is urgent that humanity work towards equity of consumption and slow the growth of the world's population or we'll head towards a "downward vortex" of ruin, according to a report published today.
People and the Planet, the report from the Royal Society, is the result of a nearly two-year study. It emphasizes that global population and consumption are linked and must be seen as such to work for the health of humankind and the planet.
Sir John Sulston, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the report working group, said, "We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices. Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future."
Among the report's key findings is that developed countries must decrease material consumption, and that reproductive healthcare and family planning must be funded. "To not provide family planning is an infringement of human rights," Sulston noted.
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Over-consumption in rich countries and rapid population growth in the poorest both need to be tackled to put society on a sustainable path, a report says.
An expert group convened by the Royal Society spent nearly two years reading evidence and writing their report.
Firm recommendations include giving all women access to family planning, moving beyond GDP as the yardstick of economic health and reducing food waste.
The report will feed into preparations for the Rio+20 summit in June.
"This is an absolutely critical period for people and the planet, with profound changes for human health and wellbeing and the natural environment," said Sir John Sulston, the report's chairman.
"Where we go is down to human volition - it's not pre-ordained, it's not the act of anything outside humanity, it's in our hands."
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The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise consumption levels, then reduce them, to help the poorest 1.3 billion people to escape absolute poverty through increased consumption. Alongside this, education and voluntary family planning programmes must be supported internationally to stabilise global population. The new report, People and the Planet, is the result of a 21 month study by the Royal Society, the UK’s 350 year-old national academy of science, on the issues around global population.
Sir John Sulston, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the report working group, said: "The world now has a very clear choice. We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices. Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future."
"We call on all governments to consider the issue of population carefully at the Rio+20 meeting and to commit to a more just future based not on material consumption growth for their nations, but on the needs of the global community, both present and future." [...]
In addition to concluding that the consumption by those that consume most must be reduced and that health and voluntary family planning must be supported, the report features numerous other recommendations including:
- Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues and demographic changes and the influences on them should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning.
- GDP is a poor measure of social well-being and does not account for natural capital. New comprehensive wealth measures should be developed that better reflect the value of a country’s assets.
- New socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth must be developed, which will lead to better targeted governmental policies that are not based on consumption of resources without consideration of wider impact.
- Increasing population will lead to developing countries building the equivalent of a city of a million people every five days from now to 2050. Governments should plan for urban growth with reduced material consumption and environmental impact through the provision of well organised services.
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The authors acknowledge that it would take time and massive political commitment to shift consumption patterns in rich countries, but believe that providing contraception would cost comparatively little. "To supply all the world's unmet family planning needs would be $6-7bn a year. It's not much. It's an extremely good investment, extremely affordable. To not provide family planning is an infringement of human rights", said Sulston.
The authors declined to put a figure on sustainable population, saying it depended on lifestyle choices and consumption. But they warned that without urgent action humanity would be in deep trouble. "The pressure on a finite planet will make us radically change human activity", said Pretty [,one of the working group of 22 who produced the report].
"The planet has sufficient resources to sustain 9 billion, but we can only ensure a sustainable future for all if we address grossly unequal levels of consumption. Fairly redistributing the lion's share of the earth's resources consumed by the richest 10% would bring development so that infant mortality rates are reduced, many more people are educated and women are empowered to determine their family size – all of which will bring down birth rates", said an Oxfam spokeswoman.