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Is population growth the biggest sustainability challenge facing the world?
Last year, global population breached the seven-billion mark - a rise of one bilion since 1999. Current estimates by the UN Population Fund suggest that it will continue to rise, before peaking at approximately nine billion in 2045.
Most of the growth will take place in developing nations, many of them among the world’s least-developed countries, and will be concentrated among the poorest populations in urban areas.
Given the deep challenges facing the world – climate change and the food, fuel and financial crises – it is not surprising that this landmark has generated some alarm. The population debate is seldom free from hyperbole, from Thomas Malthus’s gloomy predictions in 1798 to Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book ‘The Population Bomb’. The modern spectres of resource depletion and slums, coupled with perennial immigration fears, have only added to this sense of a world ‘bursting at the seams’.
Managing our numbers should rightly be a priority - it is as much about human rights as it is about sustainability. There are 215 million women, for instance, who would like to use family planning, but are unable to access it.
Yet discussing population remains controversial - it will likely not be a priority issue at the Rio + 20 summit this June.
One reason could be that a narrow focus on numbers can mask the need to address other issues, such as consumption and equal opportunity. It also detracts from proper analysis of who the ‘seven billion’ are. Take the two billion people who are currently malnourished. Half are hungry, half are obese, with no clear dividing line between rich and poor countries.
Come to UN Forum 2012 to discuss what must be done to adjust to this new reality.