Population Matters

International Day of the Girl Child

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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Teen pregnancy rates continue to fall

The Family Planning Association (FPA) has recently reported on the latest teenage pregnancy figures from the Office for National Statistics, which recorded a 6.4 per cent decrease in teenage pregnancies in England and Wales for the second quarter of 2015 vs. the same period for the previous year.

The rate of under 18s conception was 21.8 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 17. In the same quarter of 2014, the number was 23.3. This represents a continuing long-term trend of reduced teenage pregnancy rates.

Young people need information and support to help them avoid the risk of teenage pregnancy
Young people need information and support to help them avoid the risk of teenage pregnancy

Rates did not fall evenly in all areas — in Wales, the rate was unchanged, from 25.7 per 1,000 in the second quarter of 2014, to 25.8 in the second quarter of 2015. In the North East, by contrast, the rate fell substantially from 32.5 to 29.0, a 10.8 per cent decrease.

The FPA, which works to provide information and support on sexual and reproductive health in the UK, welcomed the continued decrease in teen pregnancy rates.

However, FPA Chief Executive Nakita Halil warned against complacency.

She said: “While we welcome this continued decrease, we are still not matching the lower levels achieved in other countries in Western Europe, and it’s hard to imagine we will do unless all young people are given the information and support they need growing up.”

Teenage pregnancy not only imposes the environmental costs of increased population, but also has significant negative impacts on the quality of life of the teenage mother and her children. Teenage mothers are more likely to end up living in poverty and suffering from depression, while their children have higher rates of infant mortality, and face a significantly increased risk of poverty and mental illness.

We join the FPA in welcoming the decline in underage conception, while urging that more needs to be done — something we have written about in the past.

The FPA has done excellent work in improving people’s access to family planning. It is important that we work to continue these very promising trends.

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Population growth hinders Sustainable Development Goals

london_crowd copyWhile the fact that the UK played a leading role in the formulation of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is welcome, the UK Government has done little to establish how to implement the Goals since they came into force on 1 January 2016.

On 8 June, the International Development Committee (IDC) launched its report on the UK implementation of the SDGs.

Following this, the Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into their domestic implementation.

Our submission to this inquiry aims to draw attention to the fact that, regardless of which route is chosen to implement all SDGs successfully by 2030, population growth will make achieving this goal more difficult and more expensive.

The reason for this is simple: the SDGs must be delivered for each individual in society. The more people there are, the more will have to happen to achieve that.

The UK already faces serious population-related challenges, and these cannot be ignored.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals.
(Image source: UN)

Many challenges — housing scarcity, strain on education and health care facilities, and child poverty, for example — must be overcome in order to call the implementation of the SDGs a success. Yet, population growth will exacerbate these challenges.

Consequently, we believe that population growth should no longer be approached as a fixed premise.

This means that the Government should start promoting policies that aim at population stabilisation.

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International Youth Day 2016

Youth population — challenges, opportunities and sustainability

12 August is International Youth Day. The world’s youth population has reached 1.2 billion and is projected to increase by seven percent to 1.3 billion by 2030. Never before have there been so many people on the planet between the ages of 15 and 24.

The vast majority of the global youth population exists in the developing countries in Asia and Africa. Asian countries constitute more than 60 per cent of the youth population, and the continent will be home to more youth than any other region until around 2080.

The world’s youth population has reached 1.2 billion

Countries with a high youth population have great potential for economic and social development through effective utilisation of the ‘demographic dividend’.

Strategic investments in education, health, family planning and job creation, to cater for the growing needs and aspirations of youth, will decide our common future.

The theme for International Youth Day 2016 is ‘Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production’ — which is in line with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It is important to realise that the only way to achieve sustainable development is through investments in human capital, particularly amongst youth.

Teenage pregnancy deprives young people of essential education and health services

The significant rise in the youth population has put an enormous pressure on public and natural resources. Considering that the ‘demographic momentum’ will lead to an increase in the youth population, the only way we can assure sustainable development and eradication of poverty is through education and investments in health, especially sexual and reproductive health.

To counter the unsustainable growth in population, provision of easily-accessible family planning services is critical. This is especially crucial for the youth population in developing countries, who are faced with the challenges of education and employment, and for whom the absence of effective family planning services often leads to teenage pregnancy. This, in turn, increases dependency, and deprives young people of essential education and health services.

This situation is reflective of the current scenario in many developing and poor countries in Asia and Africa, wherein the countries are not able to harness the potential of the demographic dividend.

A youth of 15 today will be an adult in 2030, the target year for the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Thus, the future of sustainable development ought to occur with youth at the centre of all decisions.

Only an informed and educated youth population can ensure a sustainable futureEnsuring healthy lives, promotion of human rights, education, equality, jobs and livelihoods for young people must take precedence in defining our sustainable future. The existing challenges for young people in developing countries must be overcome by providing effective sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Only an informed and educated youth population will be able to realise the importance of population stabilisation and, in doing so, ensure a sustainable future.

In this endeavour, Population Matters strongly believes in, and promotes the cause of, universal access to family planning services to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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A European vision for sustainability

The recent strategic note from the European Union’s European Policy Strategy Centre on Europe’s vision for sustainability is timely, following close on the heels of the UN 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development.

The report is thorough in listing and exploring the challenges of global demographics, climate change and world economy to achieving a sustainable future. In doing so, it rightly points out the urgency of responding to these challenges to ensure an economic growth compatible with planetary boundaries.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Exploring the sustainability challenge in the European Union, Karl Falkenberg rightly points out that economic development in Europe has come at the cost of global demographics, ecological problems, and a financial system that lacks resilience. It is necessary to fix these global issues if Europe, as a European Brand, intends to continue its record of successful socio-economic development.

The only possible way to do so, he asserts, is to take immediate and necessary steps towards sustainability.

This report methodically describes the obstacles to achieving sustainable development goals, such as the increasing problem of population growth and migration, rising inequalities, planetary boundaries, and economy.

It is clear that current global policies for growth are unsustainable, as the rate of consumption of natural resources is higher than the rate of replenishment.

This report is particularly poignant in highlighting the growing inequalities on the social and labour front in Europe. Although the per capita income is rising, income inequality and unemployment are also increasing post-2008 financial crisis, with a record of 122 million Europeans at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

The safe and just space for humanity
The safe and just space for humanity.
Source: Oxfam + UNDP

The increasing consumption pattern of Europe is adding to ecological challenges, characterised by loss of land and poor air quality. As the European consumption pattern and lifestyle is aspirational to the growing needs of developing nations, it is important for the European Union to take a lead in providing a roadmap to sustainability.

Considering that the European financial system lacks resilience along with the unsustainability of the global financial system, overcoming these challenges will need steps beyond the ambit of standard global economics.

This report shows convincingly that Europe has the necessary strengths to address these challenges and take a long-term route to sustainability. The analysis rightly reports that the concepts of ‘green technology’ and ‘circular economy’ are instrumental in ensuring more employment and maintaining a high growth rate, while focussing on changing present consumption and production patterns.

The need for a new governance model to deliver sustainable policies is a primary requirement, and this report highlights several methods that could be critical. Ensuring participatory processes, maintaining an internal focus with a global scenario, adopting a collaborative economy, appointing sustainability ambassadors and modifying the existing business strategy towards a sustainable identity are some of the necessary measures.

The European population is growing and is estimated now to be over 510 million
Tuscany, Florence, Italy

Likewise, it is crucial to focus on certain sustainability hotspots, namely: finance, natural capital, urban planning and agriculture.

Population Matters recognises the sustainability challenge facing Europe, and welcomes this analytical report as a necessary blueprint for effective policy making.

Although there is a decline in the natural growth in population, the European population is growing and is estimated now to be over 510 million. In order to achieve sustainability, greater emphasis must be laid on encouraging smaller and thus more sustainable families. The rising rate of migration also needs prominence in European Union’s sustainability agenda.

Ensuring a sustainable population level will be crucial to any progress made towards achieving a sustainable society.

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August 8th is Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when we have already used up more resources than the Earth can regenerate this yearEvery year, the Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day: the day when humanity’s use of ecological resources exceeds what the earth can regenerate that year. This year Earth Overshoot Day is on the 8th of August, the earliest it has ever been.

Earth Overshoot Day can be thought of like a profit and loss account: on the expenses side we have the area of land and water needed to produce the resources we consume, and absorb our waste. On the revenue side, we have biocapacity, which is the amount of biologically-productive area (such as cropland, forests, fresh water etc.) that the earth can regenerate each year.

Earth Overshoot Day happens because we use more resources than the earth can produce — meaning that, in ecological terms, we are running at a loss. Not just a small loss, either; in fact, we would need the equivalent biocapacity of 1.6 planet earths to support our existing level of consumption.

How many planets would we need if everyone lived like you do in your country?Overshooting is definitively not sustainable, and fails our moral responsibility to ensure that current and future generations continue to have a planet that they are able to enjoy.

Some positive action has been taken in this regard with the signing of the COP21 Paris Agreement, where signatories pledged to reduce emissions to keep climate change below two degrees Celsius. This is important because our carbon footprint makes up 60 per cent of the world’s ecological footprint. However, research has suggested that there are still likely to be significant levels of emissions causing between 2.6 and 3.1 degrees Celsius of warming with the agreement in place, with a 10 per cent risk of temperature rising over four degrees, which would likely be catastrophic.

It is therefore important we do more work towards ending Earth Overshoot Day.

Our Overshoot Index, calculated using data from the Global Footprint Network, provides a country-by-country assessment of per capita consumption against per capita biocapacity. At current levels of consumption, there are 2.7 billion people more than the earth can sustainably support; a number that will increase as world population continues to rise by around 80 million per year.

From this it can be seen that overshoot needs to be tackled in two ways: the first way is by moving towards more sustainable lifestyles to reduce our per capita consumption. The second way is to tackle population growth so that there is a larger share of biocapacity for each of us.

If everyone chose a smaller family size, one day there would be no more Earth Overshoot DaysThis can be achieved by improving the rights of women and access to contraception in the developing world, and encouraging those in the developed world to limit the size of their families.

Only by pursuing both of these goals together can we hope to one day end Earth Overshoot Day.

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Our 25th anniversary

[ by Roger Martin, President. ]

24 July 2016 is the 25th anniversary of the founding of Population Matters
24 July 2016 is the 25th anniversary of the founding of Population Matters

The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) was founded by David Willey and others on 24 July 1991.

Its goals were: “to collect, analyze and disseminate information about the sizes of global and national populations and to link this to a study of carrying capacities and inhabitants’ quality of life in order to support policy decisions.”

One distinctive ambition was to get ‘pherology’ (the study of carrying capacity) recognized as a mainstream science. (The Global Footprint Network has since mainstreamed ‘Footprinting’.)

Until 2005 it was an all-volunteer body, operating more as a think-tank than a campaigning organization. It had some impressive successes. It published a magazine, and later a scientific Journal for its research; and it gained some media coverage. Its membership reached around 100 by 2002.

Roger Martin, Population Matters President
Roger Martin, Population Matters President

The global population at the time of its founding was 5.5 billion (now 7.3 bn); and the UK’s was 57.5 million (now 63.4 m). At the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, population was barely considered, though the then Secretary-General did say, memorably and presciently: “Either we reduce our population humanely, or nature will do it for us brutally.”

I joined as a humble provincial member in about 1993, recruited by founder member and geologist Willie Stanton. I was serving on a number of regional environmental bodies, where I started floating proposals to identify population growth as a multiplier of most of our problems.

It was at this time that I first encountered the ‘mad taboo’ that population must not be mentioned, which remains so damaging and still makes me angry.

The taboo arose after the 1994 Cairo Population Conference. Although its Programme of Action frequently mentioned the need to reduce population growth, certain women’s groups from the United States successfully spread the lie that any talk of ‘population’ as such, or even ‘family planning’, must mean coercive ‘population control’. These terms thus became politically incorrect, and were replaced by ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights’ (‘SRHR’).

The taboo on talking about sustainable population issues has led to reduced funding for family planningOne leader admitted that they wanted the money for contraception to be redirected to wider women’s issues; but the effect was only to reduce funding for family planning programmes. The number of women with an unmet need for contraception steadily rose thereafter, causing immense suffering. The understandable diversion of funds to address HIV/AIDS only made a bad situation worse.

This post-Cairo disaster has seriously handicapped OPT/Population Matters (PM) ever since. A whole generation of otherwise rational people, such as British environmental journalists George Monbiot and Fred Pearce, are bizarrely inhibited about discussing population, sensing vaguely that it’s ‘not really nice’, or even racist, to do so. Our mission almost boils down to ‘breaking the mad taboo.’

David and Yvette Willey at the OPT AGM, 1997 (image reprinted from Population Matters Magazine, Feb 2016)
David and Yvette Willey at the OPT AGM, 1997

Returning to organizational development, David Willey sadly died in 2000. Edmund Davey became acting Chair of OPT, with strong support from Val Stevens and Bill Partridge. In 2002, Rosamund McDougall, who had a background in financial journalism and publishing, joined as one of two Co-Chairs with Professor John Guillebaud.

OPT published high quality research and secured a steady stream of media coverage. It launched its first website in 2002 and obtained charitable status in 2006. It released John Guillebaud’s ‘Youthquake’ report in 2007 and recruited a number of notable patrons, including Sir David Attenborough.

By 2005, OPT could afford to engage the environmental journalist David Nicholson-Lord and pay Rosamund for some of her work. A major boost occurred in 2007, when OPT received a large bequest from a founder member, Jack Parsons.  A condition attached to the Will was that a home should be found for his huge population archive — a task which Edmund Davey laboured on for many months, with eventual success.

Population Matters Chief Executive Simon Ross
Population Matters Chief Executive Simon Ross

The money enabled OPT to start paying for professional services. David and Rosamund teamed up as joint Policy Directors and Julie Lewis was engaged as Administrator. Meanwhile, Val Stevens became Chair, followed by Sue Birley and then Val Stevens again. Tragically, David became ill with a terminal condition in 2008 and died, much missed, in 2014.

I became Chair in 2009, and the following year we appointed Simon Ross as Chief Executive. Activity has increased steadily since. Achievements include:

Population stabilization and reduction to sustainable levels must become a priority policy goal for governments and the UNBut outputs are not outcomes. Only when the British Government, the EU and the United Nations have declared population stabilization and reduction to sustainable levels to be a priority policy goal can we declare victory.

Meanwhile, we keep fighting that blasted taboo.

[ Article reprinted from Population Matters Magazine, Feb 2016 ]

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UN must promote small families

On World Population Day, let's build a sustainable futureToday, on World Population Day (11 July), Population Matters, a charity concerned with population and sustainability issues, calls on individuals to have smaller families and for the UN Development Agency to prioritise policies that support them.

Simon Ross, Population Matters Chief Executive, said:

“Human numbers have grown beyond seven billion, and are increasing by 80 million each year. This contributes to conflict, poverty, climate change and the impact of natural disasters. Natural resources become depleted, natural amenities become polluted and the well-being of ever more people is threatened.

“Population growth should not be accepted as unavoidable. We should mark World Population Day by calling on individuals to have smaller families, and for the UN Development Programme to prioritise policies that support them. We should do this so that we can build a sustainable future with a healthy environment and decent living standards for all.”

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