Rhein on Energy and Climate

During the last 2000 years the human species has irresistibly conquered the planet. In my own life time, the number of human beings on the planet has more than trebled, from 2 billion in 1930 to 6.7 billion today; and the numbers are set to rise by another 2 billion mostly poor people until the middle of the century.

This is a nightmare perspective. But nobody seems concerned, except a few scientists who care about the sustainability of our tiny planet. The political elites in the developing countries are caught in day-to-day issues; many may even consider that more people mean more wealth and power. The political elites in the rich part of the world are coping with the consequences of declining and ageing populations at home and are mostly unaware of the demographic time bomb that is ticking around them.

Already with its present world population of less than 7 billion, the planet shows serious signs of stress – scramble for land and resources, deforestation, land erosion, high food prices, over-fishing, dying coral riffs, climate instability with frequent droughts, storms and floods. Can anyone seriously believe a planet with 9-10 billion people in the course of this century will be the peaceful, harmonious and sustainable place we are looking forward to? Of course not!

So what should happen to prevent the nightmare scenario from becoming the reality?
We need a two-pronged approach focused on awareness building and concrete action.

Without a lucid awareness about the disastrous consequences of continued demographic growth for developing countries and the planet there will be no action. China and Iran are successful examples of awareness and action. Both have been able to dramatically lower their population growth thanks to determined leadership and effective action, in particularly by educating young men and women.
Some 100 developing countries should urgently learn from these two examples and define proper strategies for curbing high fertility. But someone needs to kick off this process. The EU and the UN appear to be the most appropriate external coaches. Jointly, they should bring the issue of demography back to the international development agenda. They should organise a series of informal high-level talks with the political leaders of those countries that are likely to suffer most from excessive population growth.

The EU and other donors will have to offer all the financial support necessary to implement effective national strategies aiming at smaller families. They have to reverse their lukewarm or even negative stance on population policy support. Education of girls must be an overriding element in any successful approach. The EU should therefore make this a priority concern, in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

There is no time to be lost. Today’s action will not have an impact before 2020. The EU and the UN should therefore get their act together for pragmatic steps rather than for another ineffective jumbo conference on population. The aim should be to persuade individual countries to engage in a long-term population strategy and offer them all the external assistance they might need.

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