The United Nations on 2 August adopted an historic document that will be used to guide development throughout the world for the next 15 years. The document, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, lists 17 specific development objectives known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The document represents the culmination of almost two years of effort and a significant step towards sustainable development. The SDGs are broad, inclusive and ambitious. However, they do not reflect the impacts of high fertility rates and unsustainable population growth. This undermines the entire post-2015 development agenda. Unsustainable population growth strains resources, hinders poverty-reduction efforts, is a major contributor to environmental degradation and presents many other problems.
The latest United Nations population projections indicate that the population of the world will increase by approximately one billion by 2030. Such an increase would make the SDGs very difficult if not impossible to achieve.
Population trends are referred to once in the document — in the opening declaration. The trends are not mentioned anywhere in the text of the SDGs themselves.
There are however two targets — 3.7 and 5.6 — that call for universal access to family planning services and sexual and reproductive health and rights. These targets are crucial to lowering fertility rates, but only appear in the document within the context of women’s health and gender equality. That the targets are not recognised as critical to the success of the entire SDG framework is problematic because historically such lack of recognition has resulted in only limited funding — between 2002 and 2011 only 0.31 per cent of total international development aid was used to address the relevant issues.
If the SDGs are to be achieved, policymakers must at last acknowledge the great importance of population size and prioritise addressing it.