IAP statement on population and consumption

14 June 2012

The world’s 105 science academies – including the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science – are today highlighting the global challenges of population and consumption and calling upon world leaders to take decisive action.

Download the statement here.  

Fellow of the Royal Society and IAP Working Group Chair, Professor Charles Godfray, said:

“In April the Royal Society produced its own report on population and consumption, People and the Planet, and we are delighted that the world’s science academies have also chosen to come together to highlight two of the most profound challenges to humanity – population and consumption – and to call for urgent and coordinated international action to address them.  For too long the dual issues of population and consumption have been left off the table due to political and ethical sensitivities.  These are issues that affect us all, developed and developing nations alike, and we must take responsibility for them together.  Policymakers have an extraordinary opportunity to seize the initiative at the international summit in Rio and we hope that they will choose to take the sound, evidence-based advice of their own academies of science as they make decisions that will affect the future of the planet.”

Through IAP , the global network of science academies, academies from all over the world, including countries as diverse as South Africa, Latvia, Japan, Nicaragua, Bolivia, the UK and New Zealand,  have come together to call for action on population and consumption.  The academies’ statement highlights that current patterns of consumption, especially in high-income countries, are eroding the planet’s natural capital at rates that are severely damaging the interests of future generations, and should consequently and urgently be reduced.  It also highlights that, if the right conditions are in place, reducing rapid population growth can stimulate and facilitate economic development, improve health and living standards, and increase political and social stability and security. The statement emphasises the relevance of population and consumption to the future of both developed and developing countries and reminds policy makers preparing for Rio+20 of the need to consider the following:

  • Population and consumption determine the  rates at which natural resources are exploited and the ability of the Earth to meet our food, water, energy and other needs now and in the future;
  • Current patterns of consumption in some parts of the world are no longer sustainable.
  • Rapid population growth can be an obstacle to improving living standards in poor countries, to eliminating poverty and to reducing gender inequality;
  • Changes in population age structure resulting from declining birth and death rates can have important environmental,  social and  economic ramifications , for example as a result of increased demands on healthcare and pensions systems;
  • Population growth contributes to migration and urbanisation,  which if unexpected and unplanned can  be economically and politically disruptive and have serious environmental impacts, thereby preventing potential opportunities for economic and social development from being realised;
  • The combination of unsustainable consumption and the number of people on the planet can directly affect our capacity to support natural biodiversity.

The statement also highlights some key actions that need to be taken, including:

  • Consideration of population and consumption in all policies, including those related to poverty reduction and economic development, global governance, education, health, gender equality, biodiversity and the environment;
  • Reduction of levels of damaging types of consumption and the development of more sustainable alternatives, with action critically needed in higher –income countries;
  • Encouragement of development strategies that help reduce population growth, in particular those that promote education to women and girls;
  • Provision of access to comprehensive reproductive health and family planning programmes for all.  This issue requires substantial additional resources and policy attention from governments and international donors;
  • A global shift to a new, green economy through the reduction of levels of damaging types of consumption and the development of more sustainable alternatives;
  • Development of policies that improve the quality of life of older people and  create new opportunities for their continued contribution to society;
  • Development of urban planning policies that take into account future consumption and demographic trends.