Containing population growth must become a global priority

Posted by Eberhard Rhein on 29/01/09
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Despite the positive signals of demographic stabilisation in the developed world and China, global population keeps increasing at an unsustainable rate. Every year it grows by about 80 million, the equivalent of the German population. UN projections for 2050 expect global population to reach more than 10 billion in the worst hypothesis, 8.4 billion in the best and more than 9 billion in the medium one. This compares to 6.7 billion presently.

The present world population generates already more stress than the planet can stand. It is becoming more and more difficult to feed that many people, as fertile soil is being eroded, water is becoming scarce, and the seas over-fished. Rising population is also one of the driving forces behind climate change, not least because of massive deforestation and emissions of methane gas due to rising stock of sheep and cattle.

The world community is committed to eradicating hunger in the world. It has once again repeated this solemnly at this week’s Madrid conference on global food problems. But it puts a blind eye on the possibilities of improving the food supply from the demand side, by limiting the number of mouths to be fed.

It is possible to slow down population growth substantially. If humanity acted with resolution it is still possible to stabilise global population around 8.5 billion by the middle of the century. China and Iran are the two most conspicuous cases of successful population policies, and instead of criticising China for its somewhat brutal one-child policy, we should praise it for its courage to have done so. Imagine China with a population of 2 billion towards of this century, if it had failed to draw the emergency brake 30 years ago!

So what should happen concretely?
The EU and the USA should review their priorities for international development cooperation.
In the future, population policy must become an essential component, together with education and health.
Few people in Europe have noticed that in its first 10 days the Obama Administration has reversed the dogmatic line of its predecessor on population policy and declared its willingness to resume cooperation with the UN Population Fund, which the Bush Administration had suspended because of its alleged tolerance of abortion practices.
The EU Commission has done very little on population during the past 10 years, so have most of the EU member states, especially in Catholic countries.

The time has come for the EU to review its position and declare the reduction of global population growth as important a long-term policy objective as the reduction of green house gases. It is time to wake up to the fact that climate change and population growth are twins.
Are our development ministers so much lost in project management that they overlook the grim future perspectives? Have they still not grasped that Africa more than any other continent needs to slow down its demographic surge and it is the key drive behind illegal migration towards Europe?

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