Rhein on Energy and Climate

On June 20-21st the international community will remember the 20th anniversary of the last UN Conference on Development and Sustainability in Rio de Janeiro.

There is little reason to celebrate this anniversary. Though we have witnessed stunning economic progress in East Asia, the Gulf and several Latin American countries, the inequalities of living conditions on earth have widened further; the global population has grown by almost two billion more people, and C02 emissions have gone up by more than one fifth since 1990.

Altogether, the planet has become substantially less sustainable since 1992; and Humanity is heading for disaster if it fails to wake up to the issues that it will be facing in the coming decades.

The 2012 Rio Conference on Sustainable Development is therefore more than appropriate.

It will focus on seven priority areas: jobs, energy, cities, food security, water supply, oceans and disaster readiness. Each of these is very important for the future of Humanity. But it will be next to impossible to address them effectively while ignoring rapid population growth as one of the underlying basic causes.

As long as global population keeps growing by some 80 million annually. the planet will not be sustainable The overriding objective for Rio should therefore be an agreement among all 200-odd participant countries to actively promote the two-children family.

Every new-born should be entitled to share the blessings of modern civilisation, from food, to water, electricity, housing,sanitation, health and education.

But with every new born it will become more difficult to provide such blessings; on the contrary, persistent population growth will make it more difficult to contain environmental damage and climate change.

Rio+20 should therefore proclaim the right of all women to have free access to reproductive health and contraceptives. Giving all women the choice to freely meet their demands for contraceptives and reproductive health services, would help reducing global emissions of green house gases in 2050 by 17 per cent, according to UN estimates.

Population growth may no longer be a vital issue for China and other medium income countries.

But it will still be the single major handicap for higher living standards in sub-Sahara African countries. These countries are not only the poorest on earth but also those witnessing a population explosion that defies all historical experience: How can sub-Sahara Africa cope with a further demographic surge, doubling its population from one to two billion people within less than 40 years, while being unable to properly employ, feed, educate and care its present population!

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  1. Too right. Excess population size makes all of humankind’s problems more difficult to resolve. It leads to lower quality of life, conflict, and many, many ‘wicked’ problems. By itself, efforts to manage population size would not automatically eliminate all problems, of course, but it would make dealing with them much lighter.

    Regarding health care, especially for women and children, this can be considered only a public good since a healthy society is more likely to be a happy and productive society. One which benefits everyone in ways that cannot be monetized and from which users cannot be excluded. A government that does not produce this public good is a failed government.

    Although I feel the 2-child family to be a far too modest goal given the severity of the sustainability problems we face, and the quality of life problems we face, Rio +20 could achieve an epochal historic moment by establishing a structure to achieve even that modest ambition. Unfortunately, I do not expect to have anything to celebrate when hearing the closing statements.

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