Population Matters

International Women’s Day 2011 – reproductive rights fundamental to women

International Women’s Day 2011 – reproductive rights fundamental to women

Population Matters, the UK’s leading body campaigning for sustainable populations, welcomes the UK Government’s Department for International Development confirmation that maternal health and family planning are key elements of its future aid programme.  For International Women’s Day 2011, we reiterate that effective access to affordable family planning must remain a core part of the campaign for gender equality.

The UN Millennium Development Goal of universal access to family planning by 2015 is the goal where least progress has been made. One hundred years after the first International Women’s Day, 215 million women still lack access to modern family planning while one in three women give birth without a trained attendant.

  • Family planning is a health issue.  Although maternal health has improved in recent years, birth-related issues remain a major cause of death for women of child-bearing age in many developing countries.
  • Family planning is a gender empowerment issue.  Women’s ability to control their own fertility is fundamental to their ability to develop independent economic roles and manage their own lives.
  • Family planning is a development issue.  Countries which have to support a high birth rate find it harder to direct their financial and human resources to development.
  • Family planning is a biodiversity issue.  Countries with fast-growing populations are seeing their natural habitats and ecosystems destroyed through inevitable and relentless exploitation.
  • Family planning is a resource and climate change issue.  As the world industrialises, our ever-growing numbers are an important contributor to human impact on available resources such as food, water, energy and even climate.

As we approach 2015, we need to see access to family planning, not just as an issue of health or even simply as an issue for women, but as one that is fundamental to all our futures.

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England & Wales: conceptions up overall; teen pregnancies down

Provisional ONS data for conceptions in England and Wales during 2009 show a mixed picture. Conceptions overall rose by 1%, reversing a decline in 2008 and continuing the rising trend since 2001. Taking 2008 with 2009, more babies are being born in the UK than ever before. This has clear implications for sustainability, the environment and quality of life. The UK has the third highest birth rate of any advanced country, after the Irish Republic and New Zealand (comparative US data not available).

Teenage pregnancies fell to the lowest level for 30 years. Teenage pregnancy is associated with poor life outcomes for both mother and child. Investing in reducing teenage pregnancy saves public money.

However, government abandonment of the formal teenage pregnancy strategy has raised doubts about whether this improvement will continue. The picture is highly variable across the country, suggesting that sharing knowledge of best approaches might bring benefits.

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Population Matters welcomes Chris Packham as new patron

Chris Packham has accepted the invitation of Population Matters to become its latest patron. In accepting, Chris said, “In my work with wildlife, the impact of ever growing numbers of people, both in the UK and around the world, is all too clear. These affect nature through intensive agriculture, chemical pollution, disturbance, loss of habitat, pressure on water, over-hunting and over-fishing, and of course climate change.

With the world population now approaching seven billion, and wild species becoming extinct at hundreds of times the normal rate, we really have to recognise the connection and think hard about our sheer numbers, as well as our consumption and technology, if we want a sustainable future for all of us, people and wildlife alike.

For me, it’s not just wildlife that’s running short. The record food prices we have seen this year are a wake up call people should not ignore; and ever more people make it ever harder to deal with climate change. We have to recognise that our lovely little planet has limits.

That’s why I am very pleased to join Population Matters’ distinguished patrons in their support for the campaign to encourage individuals to limit their family size, and persuade governments to give everyone access to family planning and help them to use it. This is one UN Millennium Development Goal which is as important for wildlife as it is for people”.

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OPT changes name to Population Matters

The Optimum Population Trust today announces that it is changing its working and campaign name to Population Matters.*

OPT’s message has always been that, while population growth isn’t the only cause of biodiversity loss, climate change and resource scarcity, it is an important contributor to them. OPT believes the new name conveys this argument well and underpins its growth as an environmental and sustainability charity and campaign group.

The aim of the organisation remains the same: increasing awareness of the environmental impact of population growth through campaigning, education and research.

The new name was chosen following an extensive review of alternatives and research amongst members, patrons and the public, all of whom preferred it.

OPT Chair Roger Martin comments “The Optimum Population Trust has been steadily increasing its activities and profile as a result of rising public concern over population numbers in the UK and globally. The consequences of the doubling in world population over the last fifty years are becoming evident to all. We believe that now is the right time to change our name to one that will convey our message more directly.”


*The organisation’s legal name will remain the Optimum Population Trust.

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Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution ends “not with a bang but a whimper”

The Optimum Population Trust today expressed its disappointment with the Royal Commission’s final report, Demographic Change and the Environment. The Commission, whose abolition has been announced by the government, spent two years on the study, which is the first officially sanctioned review of the impact of population numbers since the report of the Population Panel in 1973.

The Commission noted the significant and largely adverse impact on housing, resources and the environment of ageing, changing household size and rising affluence. However, it failed to acknowledge the additional impact of the further ten million people which the Office of National Statistics projects will live in the UK by 2033. Moreover, the Commission limited its proposals to improved resource use efficiency and a more even distribution of population. It said little about how reduced per capita consumption might be achieved and declined to make recommendations on addressing population growth through further migration controls or measures to encourage a lower birth rate, despite the many examples of such policies being successful in other countries.

“This report ignores or brushes aside all the points we made about the need to stabilize our numbers, since total impacts rise with each extra person” said Optimum Population Trust chair Roger Martin. “These points include: the Global Footprint Network’s calculations that the UK has already overshot our ecological carrying capacity; the growing concerns about food and energy security as prices and our dependence on imports rise; the increase in carbon emissions when we have committed to reduce them by 80%; and the global impact of every additional Briton, with a carbon footprint of 22 more Malawians. When the Chief Scientist foresees a ‘perfect storm’ of population growth, climate change and peak oil bringing increased food, water and energy insecurity, the precautionary principle requires us to stabilise our numbers, and so make us more resilient to the dangers ahead.

“The measures proposed by the Commission can help mitigate our environmental impacts, but it is absurd to pretend that that 10 million more people will not require significantly more food, water and energy, and produce more waste and pollution. As long as our numbers keep growing, we are simply running to stand still. There are no long-term solutions without stable numbers of people: as Kofi Annan said, “Population stabilization should be a priority for sustainable development”.

“The Commission recommends a focus on reducing per capita consumption and improving technology. But the whole point of the famous Ehrlich ‘IPAT’ function (environmental Impact = Population x Affluence (resource-consumption) x Technology (resource-efficiency)) is that we have to take action on all three. Our 2009 YouGov poll showed that most people would like a smaller population than we have now. If changing population trends is challenging and slow-acting, that is a reason for starting now, not dismissing it as ‘too difficult’.

Roger Martin concluded “In our view, this abject failure to address population numbers in one of the world’s most densely populated countries and one where population is continuing to rise rapidly is an abdication of responsibility. The Commission, by playing safe and seeking to avoid potentially sensitive subjects, has ‘laboured mightily and brought forth a mouse’. It has ended its forty year life ingloriously, ‘not with a bang but a whimper’.”


The submissions made by the Optimum Population Trust to the Commission is available from the Commission’s website www.rcep.org.uk

The results of the YouGov poll are available on www.optimumpopulation.org/submissions/YouGov11Jul09.xls

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Population and food security

We must take action to stabilise our numbers for long-term food security


The Optimum Population Trust welcomes recent studies which argue that feeding the growing world population, both now and in the future, is a major challenge for humanity and one which should be addressed through significant and co-ordinated efforts.  However, we regret that these reports did not address the question of influencing the growing demand for food arising from the growth in population numbers.

We believe that investing in improved reproductive health and encouraging a lower global birth rate are the best ways of achieving long term food security and must be an important contributor to those efforts.  Moreover, given the uncertainties involved in long term projections, we believe that it would be prudent for us to use every approach available which can contribute to future sustainability.


The Optimum Population Trust welcomes the two recent major reports on future food security by INRA/ CIRAD (Agrimonde)* and Foresight (Global Food and Farming Futures)**.

We support efforts to increase effective food supplies by reducing waste and increasing yields, as long as these are done in sustainable ways.  We also accept the recommendations that the affluent should be encouraged to adopt a moderate and healthy diet and that those on low incomes should have their requirement for sufficient nutrition satisfied.

Nevertheless, we continue to advocate the role of reproductive health in enhancing food security for these reasons, many of which the reports acknowledge:

  1. The UN median projection of 9 billion people by 2050 is based on a working assumption that family planning services will be provided in many of the countries where they are currently absent, leading to a fall in the birth rate.  The UN provides projections that the world population in 2050 may be as low as 8 billion or as high as 10.5 billion, the latter resulting in demand well above the base case of 9 billion.
  2. There are significant natural obstacles to increased production.  The resources of fuel, water and fertile land, all critical to agricultural production, are effectively limited, are declining in much of the world through overuse and are increasingly required for industrial and residential needs.  These factors may mean that even current agricultural practices and yields are unsustainable.
  3. Non-agricultural food resources, particularly fish stocks, are also being depleted through overuse.
  4. Climate change may well limit the ability of agriculture to maintain its productivity, through rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, natural disasters and rising sea levels.
  5. Actions required to limit carbon emissions in order to combat climate change may negatively impact agricultural productivity.
  6. It is increasingly recognised that there is a significant economic and environmental value in sustaining ecosystems and biodiversity and we must protect unexploited habitat from further destruction from agricultural or other uses.
  7. There are significant political obstacles to the solutions proposed in these reports, including consumer resistance to limitations on, and changes to, their diet, the global desire to adopt a diet with a greater proportion of, much less efficient, meat and dairy products, and competition over the rights to exploit limited resources.

Given these uncertainties, we believe it is prudent to employ all the means available to bring food demand and supply into long term balance.  This would be the case even if family planning had limited effectiveness.  In fact, family planning is a proven and low cost contributor to slowing the rapid growth in the demand for resources of all kinds, including food.  It is highly acceptable to end users and has important beneficial side-effects, including women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation, sustainable economic development and reduced pressure on the environment.

OPT chief executive Simon Ross commented, “Just as is the case with the issues of climate change and biodiversity collapse, the growth in human numbers is central to the emerging global crises over food, water and energy security.  Policymakers and policy advisers must recognise that, if we are to protect future food security, we have to act now to both provide the 200 million women who currently lack access to modern contraception with the means to manage their own fertility, and encourage those who already have access to family planning to consider that a smaller family is a sustainable family.”


*The presentation of the INRA/ CIRAD Agrimonde study may be accessed here: www.international.inra.fr/press/what_challenges_must_we_face_to_feed_the_world_in_20

**The Foresight report may be accessed here: www.bis.gov.uk/foresight/our-work/projects/current-projects/global-food-and-farming-futures

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