Population Matters

Three-quarters-of-a-million more little Britons

Three-quarters-of-a-million more little Britons

pregnant_womanThe Office for National Statistics has today released its “Vital Statistics” report for 2015. It records that 777,165 babies were born in the UK in 2015. With 602,000 people dying, the “natural increase” in the UK’s population (excluding migration) was 175,000 people.

This number of births puts our current total fertility rate (TFR) at 1.8. TFR is the average number of children a woman of childbearing age would be expected to have in the UK at current birth rates. A TFR of 2.1 is considered the “replacement rate” at which numbers of births and deaths will balance out in time. The UK’s TFR has not been above 2.1 since 1972 but “population momentum” and net immigration have led to a population increase of nearly 10 million people since then.

Population momentum arises because the number of women of child-bearing age in the population reflects the higher birth rates of previous generations – as there are more of them, they produce more babies overall, even though the number of births per woman has fallen. Only when TFR has been at replacement rate for decades in a stable population do the numbers of births and deaths actually become equal. This is why further reducing the size of families is still required to limit population growth. The 2015 TFR for the UK is also higher than it was at any point between 1992 and 2005.

The UK’s death rate (number of deaths per 1,000 people) has fallen from  12.1 in 1972 to 9.3 in 2015. In addition to birth rates and migration, death rates are the third factor in determining population.

Global picture

The UK’s total fertility rate is significantly below the global average of 2.5. According to the United Nations Population Fund, the country with the highest TFR is Niger, at 7.5, while Portugal’s TFR is 1.2 and Italy’s 1.5. Global average TFR has been falling since the 1960s but in the least developed countries, remains almost double the replacement rate at 4.0. Disturbingly, in some African countries the reduction in fertility appears to be stalling.

While the total fertility rates of developed nations are far below those in many developing nations, the environmental impact of each individual in high-consuming richer countries is far greater. A UK citizen is responsible for 40 times the CO2 emissions of a person from Sierra Leone. In emissions terms, the 777,000 little Britons born last year are equivalent to more than 30 million babies there.

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100,000 new homes in Britain

urban-animal-lit-up-city-at-nightIn his “Autumn Statement” of government spending and taxation plans, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a new fund of £2.3 billion to deliver infrastructure for up  to 100,000 new homes in high demand areas. The move follows the announcement in October of a fund to support the building of houses and is intended to make more land available and suitable for housing.

The government plans to build a million more homes by 2020, in what one minister has described as “the largest government-backed house building programme since the 1970s” in England.

The UK needs 240,000 new homes a year but is currently building only half that amount. Affordable housing is also a significant problem, with house prices rising far faster than inflation. The proportion of 25-34 year-olds who own their own home, for example, dropped dramatically from 59% in 2003 to 36% in 2013.

To minimise the destruction of countryside or farmland, the current focus of housing development in the UK is “brownfield” sites (those previously used for industrial or commercial purposes). In the southeast of Britain where demand for housing is greatest, research suggests these will be exhausted within the next ten-to-twenty years.

The housing shortage and consequent pressure on rental costs and house prices is especially acute in London. As a result, there is flight from the capital, with more people moving from London to other parts of the UK than arriving from the rest of the UK. London’s leavers frequently move to other parts of the southeast, however, where they become commuters, adding to traffic, pollution and congestion, as well as housing pressures in their new communities.

Despite the numbers fleeing London, high birth rates and international migration mean that its population is rising, and is set to reach nearly 10 million within a decade.

The UK’s population is expected to exceed 70 million by 2027. Increasing demand through rising population has driven house price inflation and a housing shortage which one study found has left 4.5 million people in housing need. The increase of approximately half-a-million people in the year to 2016 was the result of 335,000 people immigrating to Britain and a 171,100 rise in “natural growth” – births minus deaths.

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WWF: we are facing the next global mass extinction

The 2016 Living Planet report published by WWF today pulls no punches in describing the devastation to our natural world caused by human activity. The report calculates that by 2020 populations of wild vertebrate animals will have declined by nearly 70 per cent since 1970.

In 1970, the global human population was half what it is now.

By 2020 populations of wild vertebrate animals will have declined by nearly 70 per cent since 1970.2020 is the target date set by the United Nations for halting biodiversity loss — something the report’s authors believe is highly unlikely to be achieved. Instead, they conclude that the average two per cent drop in animal numbers each year is unlikely to slow.

One of their most shocking conclusions is that the current rate of extinctions is 100 times what would be considered normal without the impact of human activity.

Dr Mike Barrett. head of science and policy at WWF, said: “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife.”

The report highlights particular problems faced by freshwater species in lakes and rivers, with a shocking decline in numbers of 81 per cent. It attributes the decline to “the way water is used and taken out of fresh water systems, and also the fragmentation of freshwater systems through dam building.”

Human pressure on water resources is expected to worsen considerably due to population growth, with, according to the UN, two billion people likely to face absolute water scarcity by 2025.

Dr Barrett continued: “It’s pretty clear under ‘business as usual’ we will see continued declines in these wildlife populations. But I think now we’ve reached a point where there isn’t really any excuse to let this carry on. We know what the causes are and we know the scale of the impact that humans are having on nature and on wildlife populations — it really is now down to us to act.”

The relentless expansion of human populations and economic activities is pushing more and more wildlife species to the brink.Commenting on the report, Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation, was more explicit in identifying the cause: “The relentless expansion of human populations and economic activities in every corner of the globe, including now the most remote parts of Africa, is clearly pushing more and more wildlife species to the brink.”

The report itself, however, treats population growth largely as an inevitability which must be taken into account, rather than as a problem which can be solved. Its close and systematic look at the underlying drivers of the crisis — including consumption, food production and distribution, global economic dynamics and much more — is extremely valuable, but its failure to recognise the importance of managing population growth is a deep and disappointing failure.

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Climate change and population – problems and solutions

This year will be the first full year since records began in which the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has exceeded 400 parts-per-million (ppm). That fact scarcely does justice to the unprecedented nature of the situation, however — the last time concentrations of CO2 were so consistently high was three to five million years ago.

400ppm is not in itself an important figure — it is a milestone rather than a tipping point. It is an important milestone, nevertheless — before 1800 and the beginning of industrialisation, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were just 280ppm.

The UK government is not on course to hit its targets under the Paris Agreement.
The UK government is not on course to hit its targets under the Paris Agreement. Current decarbonisation policies, at best, will deliver about half the required reduction in emissions.

It is also important because we have learned that we have reached it just before the annual global meeting which seeks to control the warming of our planet — COP 22.

COP 22 is especially important because it follows COP 21 last year, in which the Paris Agreement was reached. The Paris Agreement binds countries to take action to ensure that global temperature does not rise more than 2°C. It comes into force on 4 November this year.

Earlier this month, the UK’s Climate Change Committee found that the government is not on course to hit its targets under the Paris Agreement for reducing the UK’s impact on global temperature. The government has committed to an 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050 but the committee’s report concludes that “current decarbonisation policies, at best, will deliver about half the required reduction in emissions.”

In particular, anticipated technological solutions, such as electric vehicles and home heating pumps, are less effective or being developed more slowly than had been expected.

Earlier this month, Population Matters CEO Simon Ross met with Nick Hurd MP, the UK minister responsible for climate change strategy, and pressed the case for population to be a central element of national and international climate change mitigation strategies.

The average UK citizen produces 7.1 tonnes of CO2 per year.
The average UK citizen produces 7.1 tonnes of CO2 per year, but limiting population growth remains almost completely unaddressed as a strategy to reduce climate change.

In Population Matters’ briefing note to Mr Hurd, we note that the average UK citizen produces 7.1 tonnes of CO2 per year — above the global average — and that our population is expected to increase by more than 20 million before the end of the century.

Limiting population growth remains almost completely unaddressed as a strategy to reduce climate change.

Our friends in French population concern organisation Demographie Responsible have produced a petition directed at the leaders attending the COP 22 meeting, calling on them to add population to the agenda.

You can read the petition in English here: http://www.cyberacteurs.org/cyberactions/pres_lang.php?id=1207&lang=Ang — and we urge you to sign it.

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CEDAW strives for gender equality

Between 24 October and 18 November the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will be held in Geneva.

During the 65th edition of the convention, a committee of 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world will monitor whether countries that ratified the CEDAW are implementing it properly.

The convention strives to create gender equality between men and women. It aims to guarantee that women have equal access to — and equal opportunities in — education, health, employment, politics, and public life in general. That this goal is one of the United Nations’ top priorities was made clear when the empowerment of women and girls was adopted in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Women work two-thirds of all working hours and produce half of the world’s food resources, but earn just 10 per cent of total world income and own less than one per cent of all properties.
Women work two-thirds of all working hours and produce half of the world’s food resources, but earn just 10 per cent of total world income and own less than one per cent of all properties.

In spite of all this, discrimination against women remains a large-scale problem. Whether this be in the UK or elsewhere, gender-based discrimination is unacceptable. While women work two-thirds of all working hours and produce half of the world’s food resources, they earn a meagre 10 per cent of total world income and own less than one per cent of all properties. Moreover, in far too many cases, discrimination against women essentially means denying them universal human rights. The majority of the poorest people of the world are women.

In many countries the ownership of women over their bodies is restricted, denying them any reproductive health rights. It is true that much progress has been made, but so much more must be won across the globe. Too many women in developing countries lack access to modern contraceptives, making it difficult for them to actively regulate their fertility. But gender-based discrimination also exists in Europe — in Poland, for example, where a recently proposed abortion law would seriously restrict the rights of women.

Population Matters is committed to women’s rights. We see the elimination of gender inequality as a necessary requirement for a bright future in which all thrive.

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Why we must support the world’s 10-year-old girls

Population Matters attended the launch of the 2016 annual report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in London on Thursday 20 October. Entitled ‘10’, the report focuses on the situation of 10-year-old girls across the world, identifying the age as one from which a path of opportunity, creativity and productivity can follow or one where ‘family, community and institutions may block her safe and healthy transition through adolescence into adulthood.’

There are now 60 million 10-year-old girls, 89 per cent of whom live in less developed regions of the worldThere are now 60 million 10-year-old girls, 89 per cent of whom live in less developed regions of the world.

According to the report, more than half of all 10-year-olds live in countries with high levels of gender inequality and girls remain less likely than boys to be enrolled in school. Countries with the highest proportions of 10-year-olds are also likely to have higher levels of child labour.

UNFPA stresses the importance of recognising the distinctive needs of girls, for whom discrimination, sexual exploitation and the possibility of motherhood while they are themselves still children exacerbate many of the other problems they may face.

UNFPA calls for policies to support girls as they approach this crucial stage in their lives, including proper legal recognition, access to proper health care and education — which plays a direct role in empowering girls to marry and bear children later in life than they would otherwise do.

The report also makes a clear case for the provision of appropriate sex and relationships education (SRE). At the London launch event, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive Director of UNFPA, spoke of the challenges of persuading some governments to accept the need for SRE, but also of how such opposition could be overcome. He noted that the very words ‘sex education’ can appear threatening in some cultures and simply labelling SRE as ‘life skills education’ can help shift attitudes.

The UNFPA report states: 'Investing in girls makes good financial sense. Conversely, failing to invest in them is nothing less than planned poverty.'UNFPA’s mission is to deliver ‘a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.’ Its report repeatedly maintains that maximising opportunities for girls approaching puberty is not just good for them but benefits society as a whole. Education and the freedom to join the paid workforce turn them from dependents into producers, contributing to the economy and the wellbeing of their communities.

It bluntly states: ‘Investing in girls makes good financial sense. Conversely, failing to invest in them is nothing less than planned poverty.’

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Population matters on World Energy Day

October 22 is World Energy Day.

Since its first edition in 2012, this annual event has raised awareness of global energy challenges, the need to conserve natural resources and the importance of creating policies that increase energy efficiency.

The global demand for energy will be one third higher by 2040
The global demand for energy will be one third higher by 2040

Energy usage is linked to prosperity and wellbeing. It allows societies to produce goods, and provides humans with domestic comforts. Meeting the growing global demand for energy is a challenge because, on the one hand, the world faces depleting fossil fuel reserves and environmental degradation, but on the other hand, it also faces rapid population growth and increasing demand for energy.

In the last 30 years, global energy consumption has more than doubled, and the world has relied predominantly on fossil fuels to supply its energy needs.

While that has been happening, human population size has grown from 2.5 billion in the 1950s to 7.4 billion in 2016, and it is projected that the world’s population will pass 9.7 billion by 2050.

There appears to be a strong causal relationship between population growth and energy consumption.  Each new individual uses energy, and the availability of energy has improved living conditions, thereby increasing life-expectancy, which in turn leads to still greater energy use. The world’s total energy demand is therefore bound to grow as population grows.

It is certainly true that energy can be used more efficiently, that humans can adopt more mindful lifestyles and that the development of renewable energy sources should be prioritised more than is currently the case.

Yet, it takes time to make these changes and to implement them successfully. In that time, population is still growing, and placing an ever-greater strain on the Earth’s natural resources.

As long as population grows, the total number of energy consumers grows, even if each consumer uses less. Therefore, we should focus not only on per capita optimisation of energy use and on the development of renewable energy sources, but also on population stabilisation.

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International Day for the Eradication of Poverty

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is celebrated annually on 17 October. It aims to make the voices of the poorest of society heard.

When the day was marked for the first time in 1987, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Paris to proclaim that extreme poverty and hunger are violations of the Declaration of Human Rights, and that we ought to ensure that these rights are protected.

800 million people live in extreme poverty
800 million people live in extreme poverty

In 2015, the world showed that it takes poverty eradication seriously. When 193 countries adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), the first goal was a commitment to lifting everyone out of extreme poverty by 2030.

Yet, rapid population growth will make it difficult to reach that target. Currently, around 800 million people live below the poverty line. The global population is projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, and most of this growth will occur in the poorest parts of the world.

Population Matters believes that the widespread implementation of the SDGs will be unachievable at current rates of population growth.

Whilst redistribution of resources and capital may contribute to eradicating poverty, improving access to contraception is arguably the most cost-effective step to take in the long term. Research has shown that it is easier for small families to escape poverty.

Moreover, increased funding for family planning facilities, reproductive health provisions and education would also help the world achieve SDG 5, which calls for the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women — both of which enable people to escape poverty more easily.

Population stabilisation not only has the capacity to help us achieve the target of poverty eradication on the relatively short term, but it also allows us to move towards a long-term sustainable world in which all remain poverty free.

Because even if we redistribute our resources well, population growth strains natural resources and contributes to environmental degradation which will in turn cause conflict and more poverty.

Therefore, population size should be considered in discussions about poverty eradication.

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Population matters on World Food Day

16 October is World Food Day.

As population increases, food security is increasingly uncertain. The world set itself a considerable challenge as it adopted the Sustainable Development Goals: to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.’ A goal that is ever more challenging to achieve as the implications of climate change are more and more visible.

Those hit hardest by rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are the world’s poorest. They are also the majority of the one in nine that are chronically undernourished.
Those hit hardest by rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are the world’s poorest. They are also the majority of the one in nine that are chronically undernourished.

World Food Day 2016 captures that problem in its theme: ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’ Those hit hardest by rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are the world’s poorest. They are also the majority of the one in nine that are chronically undernourished.

To make matters worse, the global population is projected to increase past 9.7 billion by 2050, creating an even greater demand for food.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes that the agriculture and food systems in the world need to be adapted to the adverse effects of climate change. Such adaptability would create a resilient, efficient and sustainable food production system that meets the demand of all to end hunger once and for all. While we agree that there is much to win in the existing food sector by reducing waste, improving farming methods and changing consumption patterns, this is not in itself sufficient to guarantee food security for all.

We argue that not only should we adapt our food industry to the unavoidable effects of climate change to guarantee food security, but we should also ensure that agriculture does not contribute to further climate change. The expansion of crop land and the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides intensify both climate change and environmental degradation.

Governments across the globe need to consider population stabilisation as a key component of improving food security.
Governments across the globe need to consider population stabilisation as a key component of improving food security.

Moreover, it may be impossible to realise such opportunities in densely populated areas, due to a lack of space and competition with the building sector.

That potential conflict draws attention to the most obvious variable that needs to be considered in any food security question: human population.

Population growth exacerbates every existing challenge. Every individual emits carbon, requires food and water and needs a roof over their head, and with limited space this means it is impossible to create a truly sustainable society in which both humans and nature thrive in the long term, when population size increases.

Consequently, it is necessary that governments across the globe consider population stabilisation as a key component of improving food security. Attention to climate change and its implications for food security is a good start, but the FAO should not forget the influence of population size on both.

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Contraceptives for Caloocan City

Over a hundred people in the Philippines have been able to gain control over their fertility, thanks to £5,000 which our initiative PopOffsets gifted to local organizations.

While women comprise the majority of those helped, it is noteworthy that one man opted to take advantage of the opportunity to have a non-scalpel vasectomy. It is a milestone to achieve a little bit of man-involvement in a culture of machismo.

Women in the Philippines are not always able to make trips to community health centres, because they have to stay home to care for their children.
Women in the Philippines are not always able to make trips to community health centres, because they have to stay home to care for their children.

Myths surrounding contraceptive methods, and great gender inequalities, are two major challenges faced in the Philippines. Moreover, women are not always able to make trips to community health centres, because they have to stay home to care for their children.

To overcome the latter barrier, family planning projects have started visiting prospective family planning service users at their homes. Continuous education and information about sexual and reproductive health will be required to eventually overcome the former barrier.

There is no doubt that a good population regulation strategy would benefit the Philippines. In 2005, Aniceto Orbeta, a research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, proved that big families today face greater poverty than they would have in the past.

The economic situation of smaller families, however, has improved significantly in the past few decades. PopOffsets’ partnerships with the Caloocan City Health Department, the Caloocan Private Midwives Association, the Philippine Society of Reproductive Health Nurses, LuzonHealth and the Population Services Pilipinas Inc can contribute to further improvement.

We are delighted to see that funding of small-scale family planning projects has the power to transform lives for the better. What seems like a small change for some, is a huge step for others. A move away from poverty, the power to exercise the right of bodily integrity and most importantly perhaps for many parents: a chance to offer wanted children better life prospects.

We invite you to visit PopOffsets’ web page, and to consider supporting the project for all these reasons.

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