Population Matters

Climate change and population – problems and solutions

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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International Day of the Girl Child

International Day of the Girl Child: A Global Girl Data Movement

The theme for this year’s International Day of the Girl Child (IDOGC) is ‘Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement.’

As many as 15 million girls under 18 are married every year — many of them with little or no say in the matter
As many as 15 million girls under 18 are married every year — many of them with little or no say in the matter.

The United Nations recognises the importance of the world’s 1.1 billion girls in achieving social and economic progress; however, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlight the wide-scale prevalence of gender inequality.

This year, the United Nations is emphasising an explicit focus on collecting and analysing girl-focused, girl-relevant and sex-disaggregated data. In doing so, we can adequately measure and understand the opportunities and challenges girls face, and identify and track progress towards solutions to their most pressing problems.

According to UNICEF, approximately 120 million girls under the age of 20 — about one in 10 — have experienced forced intercourse or other sexual acts. As many as 15 million girls under 18 are married every year — many of them with little or no say in the matter.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women are married as children. And child brides are often unable to make, or prevented from making, decisions to negotiate safe sex, leaving them vulnerable to sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections.

Most often these child brides are also deprived of their right to education, as they are forced to engage in domestic work. Further, there is irrefutable evidence of gender inequality in education, health, employment, and even nutrition.

Child brides are frequently deprived of their right to education, as they are forced to engage in domestic work
Child brides are frequently deprived of their right to education, as they are forced to engage in domestic work.

In addition, current progress to enhance opportunities for the girl child are often met with failure, as the majority of the data is not sex-disaggregated. It is also widely established that violence against girls is underreported.

Therefore, it is crucial to assess and evaluate these trends geographically through efficient data collection and tracking. The current theme of Global Girl Data Movement is a major step in the direction of empowering girls and achieving the SDGs by 2030.

Along with the Global Girl Data Movement, it will be important to make consistent efforts to avoid child marriage and unwanted pregnancy, provide protection against HIV transmission, inhibit the practice of female genital mutilation, and ensure the provision of the education and skills girls need to realize their potential.

Educated girls, unburdened by the challenges outlined above, are able to participate in the labour force, to earn a better living and to lift themselves out of poverty, whilst also contributing to overall economic growth in their societies. They are also better able to take care of themselves and their children, who are in turn healthier and better educated, meaning that the health and poverty alleviation effects are intergenerational.

Population Matters advocates the mission and values associated with IDOGC, and recognises that unsustainable population growth undermines our efforts to achieve gender equality and ensure a safe and healthy life for all girls.

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International Day of the Older Person

On 1 October the world celebrated the International Day of the Older Person.

On this day, attention was drawn to ageism and discrimination in the workplace. While the proportion of elderly people is growing in many developed nations, including the UK, older people are still confronted with outdated negative stereotypes and misconceptions.

The average age of a person in the UK has increased by 6.1 years since 1974
The average age of a person in the UK has increased by 6.1 years since 1974

This widely prevalent negative societal attitude not only undermines the rights of older people, but also stops them from contributing fully in society. Both problems are unacceptable, but the latter problem also potentially jeopardises the road towards a sustainable society.

Governments and businesses alike have frequently expressed fear at the prospect of an ageing society. That fear has caused some governments to take questionable actions — a month ago, for example, the Italian government got itself into trouble when it initiated Fertility Day in an attempt to boost its country’s falling birth rates.

Age discrimination in the workplace is also reported frequently.

What is, however, overlooked by all worrying parties is that there is plenty of room for opportunity. Improved living conditions, medicines and nutrition have, after all, given us many more healthy years of life; years in which we can live happy and functional lives. These are years that society should not dismiss as useless.

To mark the International Day of the Older Person, the Office for National Statistics has published five facts about older people at work. We would like to add four additional facts to that list, to draw more attention to the value of older people:

  1. Keeping older people in the workforce means valuable experience can be used for much longer. Since there is, on average, no significant decline in people’s capacity to learn before the age of 75, there is no good reason to force capable employees to retire before they wish to.
  2. The eyeglass is seen as one of the greatest inventions ever. It has allowed humans to extend their working life significantly by overcoming eyesight deterioration. This change has made societies more productive and effective. It would thus be strange not to take the opportunity to extend human functionality further.
  3. Even when older people retire, they are still very valuable for society. Many retired people care for their grandchildren — something that can be mutually beneficial for both parties — and this in turn allows parents to save money on childcare, and to return to the workforce.
  4. Retired people have more time to work as volunteers. Volunteers are necessary to keep society running. Without the valuable service of those who gladly work unpaid jobs, our society would be unrecognisable.

What these facts show is that older people have great value. It is time for that to be accepted, both in word and in action. We should break free from the idea that what used to be considered ‘old’, is still ‘old’. Times have changed, and so have circumstances. There is no fixed path, and the flexibility to alter and adapt will allow us to seize the opportunities that an ageing society presents.

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State of Nature report overlooks population growth impact

On September 14th, more than 50 nature conservation and research organisations published the 2016 State of Nature report. The report found evidence of significant losses in biodiversity in the UK, but overlooked the impact of population growth.

High brown fritillary butterfly
The high brown fritillary is possibly the most threatened butterfly in the UK, due to habitat destruction

The report found that 56 per cent of species declined in number between 1970 and 2013, with 40 per cent showing strong or moderate declines. The UK has experienced significantly more biodiversity loss than the global average, and is now ranked as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

The report was not universally negative: 44 per cent of species increased in number, and it was found that well-planned conservation projects can “turn around the fortunes of wildlife.”

Many factors were held to be responsible for changes in species number, but the report primarily attributed blame to intensive agricultural practices. The effect of climate change was also significant, but negative impacts were balanced by the northward expansion of species that previously could not cope with northern temperatures. Future climate change, however, is expected to cause significant reductions in northern species.

Wood pigeon
Wood pigeon numbers have significantly risen in recent decades

Despite being an impressive collaborative project, we were disappointed that population growth in the UK was never mentioned in the report.

The latest ONS figures estimate that the UK population exceeded 65 million last year, and is expected to grow by almost 10 million in the next 25 years. The report makes no reference to the fact that the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are exacerbated by population growth.

Population growth means more food is required to feed the population from the same amount of land. Inevitably, this means more intensive farming methods are needed to keep up with this increase in demand.

National Farmers Union (NFU) vice-president Guy Smith recognised this in his response to the report, saying: “There is now a high degree of academic consensus that the world will also need to increase food production significantly to meet the needs of a growing population.”

Trying to make farming less intensive without stabilising population will necessarily mean that the UK has to import more food, which, as Mr Smith also pointed out, is often produced in even more environmentally damaging ways abroad.

A greater population also requires more energy, much of which will continue to come from fossil fuels. This accelerates biodiversity losses from climate change. Urbanisation was also listed as a major cause of species loss, yet urbanisation will certainly increase as more people are born into, and migrate to, cities.

All this means that population growth should be on the conservation agenda, otherwise a holistic approach is impossible. We are very disappointed that an otherwise very well researched report has made such a regrettable oversight. We will continue to advocate strongly for including population on the environmental agenda — so much depends on it.

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