Will the New Year Ring in “Same Old Thing” or Some Action on Human Population Growth?
As we enter a new decade the global population stands at 7.75 billion people, according to the German Foundation for World Population (DSW), which has also determined that we may reach the 8 billion mark sometime in 2023. With the human population growing at the rate of 156 people a minute, we’re seeing an increase of approximately 83 million people annually—the equivalent of another Germany, Turkey, or Iran being added to our numbers each year.
As Australia burns and Jakarta sinks, new studies show that humanity will require 80% more food by 2100, based on current projections. In the perhaps politically incorrect but sadly accurate terminology of famed filmmaker and PIC patron Sir David Attenborough, humans have “overrun the world.” Sir David gave the warning in a trailer for a forthcoming documentary about the changes to Earth during his 93-year lifetime. Yet the issue of overpopulation remains the elephant in the room that continues to be largely ignored by policymakers, leaders, the media and environmental groups. Bringing about a sustainable human population has not yet been added to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so it is not surprising that many of the targets contained within each goal are not being met by their designated target date.
Our sister organization, Population Matters, is hopeful that a series of upcoming international policy meetings will set nature on a path to recovery, and has been working hard to bring attention to the underlying factor of population growth in interesting ways – such as by bringing a large inflatable baby to the Houses of Parliament in London to mark the COP25 climate meeting. And last year PIC, along with PM and other population organizations, endorsed a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres asking him to make an informal statement on the need for a new human rights-based approach to family planning, and we are hopeful that population activists may yet succeed in persuading the UN to adopt a Framework Convention on Population Growth.
But significant progress in protecting wildlife habitat and biodiversity, reducing consumption of energy and resources, and reducing overall emissions of greenhouse gases will not occur in the face of continuing rapid population growth.
The preamble to the Programme of Action that arose from the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994, recognized the “crucial contribution” that “early stabilization of world population” would make “towards the achievement of sustainable development” (paragraph 1.11). In the same paragraph, it recognized that every country had to take responsibility toward achieving a sustainable population:
The recommendations for action are made in a spirit of consensus and international cooperation, recognizing that the formulation and implementation of population policies is the responsibility of each country and should take into account the economic, social, and environmental diversity of conditions in each country, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values, cultural backgrounds and philosophical convictions of its people, as well as the shared but differentiated responsibilities of all the world’s people for a common future.
Of course, the above does not preclude governments from helping other countries to establish ethical and effective family planning programs. In this regard, PIC is pleased that Canadians can now support the efforts of Marie Stopes International—one of the largest and most effective non-profit organizations providing family planning services in developing countries—and receive a tax receipt in return, thanks to the very recent partnership of MSI with King Beaudouin Foundation (KBF) Canada.
While the government of Canada has shown leadership in supporting international family planning programs, it shows no inclination to stabilize its own population – despite being one the highest resource-consuming and greenhouse-gas emitting countries in the world. The pursuit of very rapid growth through high immigration is at odds with the government’s stated concerns of environmental protection and PIC urges the government to recognize that Canada, like planet Earth, is finite and that its ecosystems are already under severe stress. Rather than promoting the growth of its own population, Canada should seek to stabilize it while helping other countries to establish ethical and effective family planning programs.