Attenborough Warns Rio Conference: “Don’t ignore population”

by Jun 16, 2012Conservation Threats, Wildlife News

Sir David Attenborough, Jonathon Porritt and former Chief Scientist Lord May have warned the Rio Earth Summit that it will make no progress if it ignores the problem of population growth.

They were among a group of eminent people, Patrons and Supporters of Population Matters, to sign a statement on behalf of the environmental charity. It points out that “Stable populations are an essential part of any sustainable future – reducing our personal footprint does not help if we keep increasing the number of feet”.

Population Matters Chair Roger Martin said: “We have been working to get population growth recognized, with over-consumption, as the two main drivers of all our environmental and resource problems. But the taboo around the subject remains strong. The global population hit 7 billion last year, and is projected by the UN as somewhere between 8.1 and 10.6 billion by 2050, depending on what we all do about it. Rio’s plans for sustainable development will be little more than a wish list if they ignore the urgent need to stabilize our numbers – along with all the other action needed on food, water, energy and so on”.

Population growth was much debated at the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The then Secretary-General, Maurice Strong, said bluntly: “Either we reduce our population voluntarily, or nature will do it brutally”. Since the Population Conference in 1994, however, the issue has been marginalized and family planning has been neglected.


Editors’ notes:

For further information on this press release or other population issues, contact Simon Ross on 020 8123 9353.

ABOUT Population Matters

Population Matters is the UK’s leading body campaigning for sustainable populations in the UK and abroad. We conduct education, research and advocacy on the environmental impact of population size. Population Matters is the working name of the Optimum Population Trust. Regd. charity no. 1114109 and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales Regd. no. 3019081. Regd. office 135-137 Station Road, London E4 6AG.


Population Matters’ patrons comprise:

Sir David Attenborough OM CH CVO CBE

Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge

Professor Paul Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

Baroness Shreela Flather, First Asian woman member of the House of Lords; crossbencher

Dr Jane Goodall DBE, pioneer of research and conservation of chimpanzees

Susan Hampshire OBE, actress

Professor John Guillebaud, Emeritus Professor of Family Planning and Reproductive Health, University College, London. Former Medical Director, Margaret Pyke Centre for Family Planning

Dr James Lovelock CBE, author of the Gaia hypothesis

Professor Aubrey Manning OBE, zoologist and broadcaster, Emeritus Professor of Natural History, University of Edinburgh

Professor Norman Myers CMG, Visiting Fellow, Green College, Oxford University, and at Universities of Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, California, Michigan and Texas

Chris Packham, naturalist, nature photographer, television presenter and author

Sara Parkin OBE, Founder Director and Trustee of Forum for the Future, Chair of the Richard Sandbrook Trust, Board member of the European Training Foundation

Jonathon Porritt CBE, Founder Director of Forum for the Future and former Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission.

Lionel Shriver, journalist and author

Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO, Chancellor of Kent University, Director of the Policy Foresight Programme at the James Martin Institute, and former UK Permanent Representative on the United Nations Security Council

Other supporters signing the statement:

Lord May was Government Chief Scientist and President of the Royal Society;

Prof Chris Rapley CBE was Head of the British Antarctic Survey, and Director of the Science Museum;

Dr Nafis Sadik is Under-Secretary-General for reproductive health at the UN;

Carl Wahren is a former long-term Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.


Population Growth at the Rio Earth Summit

Statement by Patrons and Supporters of Population Matters

The Rio Earth Summit must address population growth if it is to make real progress toward sustainable development. Stable populations are an essential part of any sustainable future.

Ever more people multiplied by ever more consumption per person increase our environmental impact and deplete our finite resources, worsening all our environmental and resource problems. Thus whatever we do to improve technology and limit individual consumption, we can only achieve sustainability if we also stabilise our numbers. Reducing our personal footprint does not help if we keep increasing the number of feet – we need to limit both.

We therefore welcome the recent Royal Society’s ‘People and the Planet’ report and the WWF’s ‘2012 Living Planet Report’. Like Population Matters, both recognize the immense challenges we face this century of ecological degradation, resource depletion, food, water and energy security, and biodiversity loss, exacerbated by climate change and peak oil; and both agree with us that these will all be easier to overcome with a smaller future population.

We therefore urge the Rio Earth Summit:

* to recognize the importance for sustainable development of stabilizing populations as soon as possible;

* to urge all Governments to adopt non-coercive population stabilization or reduction policies;

*to recommend the provision of universal access to family planning services, with women’s empowerment and education, as an urgent priority.

Endorsed by:

Sir David Attenborough; Prof Paul Ehrlich; Prof John Guillebaud; Susan Hampshire; Prof James Lovelock; Prof Aubrey Manning; Lord Robert May; Sara Parkin; Jonathon Porritt; Prof Christopher Rapley; Dr Nafis Sadik; Carl Wahren

Population Matters

7 June 2012