Rhein on Energy and Climate

Since 1987 the international community has regularly “celebrated” July 11 as the World Population Day. In 1987, the world population counted no more than five billion. Today it exceeds 7 billion and demographers have little doubt that it will exceed 9 billion in 2050 and 10 billion at the end of the century! This increase, which is taking place essentially in the poorest countries, with low educational and health standards, is unsustainable for individual countries and Humanity as a whole.

Poor societies find it increasingly difficult to cope with the consequences of their growing populations. They lack the means to provide for education, health, housing and other basic services. Additional poverty and unemployment are the consequences.

At the global scale, 80 million additional human beings every year, the equivalent of the German population, require food, energy, water, clothing and housing thereby enhancing the strain on the earth’s overtaxed resources: the crop land available for an average human being has shrunk from 0.5 ha in 1960 to 0.2 in 2010, a drop of 60 per cent within half a century!

According to WHO estimates more than 200 million women, lacking access to modern family planning services, suffer from unwanted pregnancies every year.

Avoiding unwanted babies and reducing the fertility below three children per woman is therefore in the interest of individual countries and Humanity at large.

Investing in reproductive health is the most successful and cost-effective development intervention that allows poor countries to focus their limited means on education and infrastructure.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has underlined this fact in a remarkable press state on the occasion of the 2012 World Population Day. She has rightly stressed that reproductive rights are the most basic of human rights. That is why the USA contributed $ 640 million to bilateral family planning and reproductive health programmes in 2011/12 and another $ 35 million to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

That is more than 10 times what the EU and member countries spend for reproductive health and family planning. This is a shame! None of those in charge in Brussels or national capitals seem to care any longer about population issues, though the EU spends most of its development funding in Sub-Sahara Africa, the region with the fastest population growth world-wide.

Why has there been no EU statement similar to the one by the US Secretary of State on the occasion of the World Population Day July 11? Why does Europe ignore the fact that Africa`s population is expected to reach 2.2 billion in 2050 and the awe-inspiring figure of 3.6 billion in 2100 according to medium UN population projections?

US political “pressure” has most recently been able to obtain $ 4 billion annually in donor support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, a tiny country of 35 million people. But where is a similarly powerful wake-up call for mobilising more financial support for the vastly more important challenge of curbing global population growth!

The Gates Foundation and the British government deserve praise for having recalled what is at stake when celebrating the 25th anniversary of the World Population Day in London. But how many senior European officials in charge of international cooperation will change their programmes after the London meeting, even if they noticed the event at all?

It is saddening to see the lack of comprehensive and long-term thinking of the European political class. Too few are the development officials who realise the interrelationship between continued population growth, climate change, increasing environmental strains, uncontrolled migration and international conflicts! Too few are aware that with at least two billion more human beings on the planet by 2050 the job of stabilising the earth’s climate will become next to impossible!

And the job would be so simple. The OECD member states that form the Development Assistance Committee only have to agree on setting aside at least 10 per cent of their assistance to reproductive health programmes and help the beneficiary countries to implement appropriate programmes, including female primary and secondary education.

Nothing should prevent the EU as the main official donor, from taking an initiative to this end, which would be no more than living up to the commitments taken under the Millennium Development Goals!


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