This very careful report comes to some conclusions that environmental groups have shied away from for far too long. The report has the following Key Recommendations.
- The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
- The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.
- Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.
- Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.
The problem is that our population has continued growing despite human politics (and sometimes because of political decisions) and our population has a huge impact on our environment. Yes, human migration affects our population growth in addition to affecting locations of population, but the degree of affect of migration is not sufficient to address our planet's burgeoning population. The new report from the Royal Society does so.
One thing that gives this report some additional credibility is that it was not written in isolation. Among the authors are biologists, climatologists, ecologists, economists, environmentalists, ethologists, sociologists, theologists, and zoologists. There are professors and scientsts from Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Regarding the Sierra Club controversy, the report addresses migration in a way that makes sense from all of the included fields; from the Summary on page 7:
Population is not only about the growing numbers of people: changes in age structure, migration, urbanisation and population decline present both opportunities and challenges to human health, wellbeing and the environment. Migrants often provide benefits to their countries of origin, through remittances, and to their host countries by helping to offset a workforce gap in ageing populations. Current and future migration will be affected by environmental change, although lack of resources may mean that the most vulnerable to these changes are the least able to migrate. Policy makers should prepare for international migration and its consequences, for integration of migrants and for protection of their human rights.Here are the nine Recommendations, as summarized on page 9 (all highlighting as in the original).
Recommendation 1The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
Recommendation 2The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.
Recommendation 3Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.
Recommendation 4Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.
Recommendation 5Governments should realise the potential of urbanisation to reduce material consumption and environmental impact through efficiency measures. The well planned provision of water supply, waste disposal, power and other services will avoid slum conditions and increase the welfare of inhabitants.
Recommendation 6In order to meet previously agreed goals for universal education, policy makers in countries with low school attendance need to work with international funders and organisations, such as UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, IMF, World Bank and Education for All. Financial and non-financial barriers must be overcome to achieve high-quality primary and secondary education for all the world’s young, ensuring equal opportunities for girls and boys.
Recommendation 7Natural and social scientists need to increase their research efforts on the interactions between consumption, demographic change and environmental impact. They have a unique and vital role in developing a fuller picture of the problems, the uncertainties found in all such analyses, the efficacy of potential solutions, and providing an open, trusted source of information for policy makers and the public.
Recommendation 8National Governments should accelerate the development of comprehensive wealth measures. This should include reforms to the system of national accounts, and improvement in natural asset accounting.
The report sees and addresses "two critical issues" (page 11), increasing human population and increasing per capita consumption. Again, the impact of each on our environment should be obvious. The combined impact is disastrous. We need to move beyond debates over racism and over Rev. Malthus and focus on the science of what we are doing to our world.Recommendation 9Collaboration between National Governments is needed to develop socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth. This will inform the development and implementation of policies that allow both people and the planet to flourish.
For example, historically (at least since the writings of Rev. Mathus) we have been concerned with having sufficient food to sustain our growing population. As it turns out, food has not been an insurmountable problem (the report does address food in Chapter 3 starting on page 52), although the politics of food distribution has resulted in large numbers of people suffering and starving. Water, however, particularly fresh water, is a problem that we are going to face as our population continues to grow. From page 49,
Over the last few centuries global aggregate water use has grown exponentially (MA 2005a) and has been closely linked to economic development and population growth. A fifteen-fold increase in global water withdrawals occurred between 1800 and 1980 (Lvovich and White 1990) when population increased by a factor of four (Haub 1994): a 3.5 fold increase in average per capita consumption. Since 1980 per capita water use rate has dropped a little from 700 to 600 cubic meters per year although the aggregate global withdrawal continues to increase (Shiklomanov and Rodda 2003). Between 1960 and 2000 world water use doubled from about 1800 to 3600 km3 per year (MA 2005a). Water use is dominated by agriculture (roughly 70% of withdrawals are for agricultural use (FAO 2010b), followed by industrial (19%) and then municipal (including domestic) applications (11%).
A child born in the developed world consumes 30 to 50 times as much water as one born in the developing world (UNESCO 2003). In 2008 it was estimated that 884 million people were still without access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion were without access to basic sanitation (WHO and UNESCO 2006) exposing them to preventable infectious diseases. The fresh water requirements for meeting basic human needs gives a total demand of 50 litres per day, which equals 18 m3 per capita per year (Gleick 1996). This is based on a minimum drinking water requirement, basic requirements for sanitation, bathing and food preparation (Gleick 1996).
The world’s natural water resources are distributed unevenly around the world. Among inhabited areas, at the continental level America has the largest share of the world’s total freshwater resources with 45%, followed by Asia with 28%, Europe with 15.5% and Africa with 9% (FAO 2003). Central Asia has just 0.6% of the world’s total freshwater resources. There is therefore wide variability in the total renewable freshwater resources available between countries; for example Kuwait has 10m3 per inhabitant while Canada has more than 100,000m3 per inhabitant (FAO 2003).Even where the phrase "renewable freshwater resources" is used, it should be kept in mind that our aquifers require time to generate fresh water. In many cases we are depleting our aquifers faster than they can recharge. We are polluting our groundwater. The number of superfund sites in the United States is appalling.
There is an explanation of some of the debates over population and consumption on page 60.
The sustainable development debate has, over recent years, been typified by those who argue that population growth is the source of current unsustainable trends, and those who believe that consumption is the primary culprit. This artificial distinction is unhelpful as it can lead to argument over whether policy should focus on reducing population growth or on improving the sustainability of consumption, while both are clearly important.Continuing on page 62.
Consumption and demography are closely inter-twined. Every person must consume, and each additional person on the planet will add to total consumption levels. Other than population size, demographic factors such as ageing or urbanisation can also influence consumption levels. Policies should not treat population and consumption as separate issues.The nature of our closed ecosphere is discussed quite well in chapter 4, including a discussion of how finite our resources are in section 4.5. This should be required reading for students. The politics of healthcare, currently a huge issue in the United States, is part of the discussion in 5.4. Family planning is crucial to getting human population under control. A bit from chapter 6, page 101:
[H]uman impact on the earth raises serious concerns. This report has explored the interactions between population, consumption and the environment. Humans are consuming resources and producing waste at an unprecedented rate. Population and consumption are both important: what matters is the combination of increasing population and increasing per capita consumption. Both global population and global consumption continue to rise and signs of unwanted impacts, interactions and feedback are growing – for example climate change reducing crop yields in some areas – and of irreversible changes – for example the increased rate of species extinction.If you can make the time, read the Report on People and the Planet. This is extremely important.