Preparations for the Rio +20 Summit - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health

The UK APPG on PD&RH wants to draw attention to population growth and the 215 million women in the world with an unmet need for family planning and sustainable development.

Population, Consumption and the Environment:

The human population has doubled since 1960 to 6.1 billion, with growth mostly in poorer countries. Consumption expenditures have more than doubled since 1970, with increases mostly in richer countries. During this time, we have created wealth on an unimaginable scale, yet half the world still exists on less than $2 a day. We have learned how to extract resources for our use, but not how to deal with the resulting waste: emissions of carbon dioxide, for example, grew 12 times between 1900 and 2000. In the process we are changing the world's climate—we have raised the average global surface temperatures. The human and ecological impact has caused rising oceans, which has subsequently caused increased flooding, coastal erosion, and loss of coastal cropland, wetlands and living space. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes and other hazardous weather may also increase, endangering the growing human population in coastal areas.

The great questions for the 21st century are whether the activities of the 20th century have set us on a collision course with the environment, and if so, what can we do about it? Human ingenuity has brought us this far. How can we apply it to the future so as to ensure the well-being of human populations, and still protect the natural world?

The stewardship of the planet and the well-being of its people are a collective responsibility. Everywhere we face critical decisions. Some are about how to protect and promote fundamental values such as the right to health and human dignity. Others reflect trade-offs between available options, or the desire to broaden the range of choice. We need to think carefully but urgently about what the choices are, and to take every action that will broaden choices and extend the time in which to understand their implications.

Today every part of the natural and human world is linked to every other. Local decisions have a global impact. Global policy, or the lack of it, affects local communities and the conditions in which they live. Humans have always changed and been changed by the natural world; the prospects for human development now depend on our wisdom in managing the relationship.

One of the key factors must be population and access to family planning and maternal and reproductive health services. This is one of the areas where action to broaden choices is universally available, affordable and agreed upon.

The Connections:

Population and the environment are closely related, but the links between them are complex and varied, and depend on specific circumstances. Generalisations about the negative effects of population growth on the environment are often misleading. Population scientists long ago abandoned such an approach, yet policy in some cases still proceeds as if it were a reality.

As human populations increase and globalisation proceeds, key policy questions are: how to use available resources of land and water to produce food for all; how to promote economic development and end poverty so that all can afford to eat and have clean water; and, in doing so how to address the human and environmental consequences of industrialisation and concerns like global warming, climate change and the loss of biological diversity.

Environmental devastation is not simply a waste of resources; it is a threat to the complex structures that support human development.

Understanding the ways in which population and environment are linked requires detailed consideration of the way in which factors interrelate, including affluence, consumption, technology and population growth, but also previously ignored or underrated social concerns such as gender roles and relations, political structures, and governance at all levels.

The relationships among environment, population and social development are increasingly better understood. There is broad agreement on means and ends. Women's empowerment, for example, is a development end in itself. Removing the obstacles to women's exercise of economic and political power is also one of the means to end poverty.

Reproductive health is part of an essential package of health care and education. It is a means to the goal of women's empowerment, but it is also a human right and includes the right to choose the size and spacing of the family. Achieving equal status between men and women, guaranteeing the right to reproductive health, and ensuring that individuals and couples can make their own choices about family size will help to slow population growth rates and reduce the future size of world population.

Among other things, slower population growth will contribute measurably towards relieving environmental stress.

Demographic Challenges and Opportunities:

Changes in the size, rate of growth and distribution of human populations have a broad impact on the environment and on development prospects. A variety of demographic changes in different areas provide new challenges and opportunities.

—  350 million couples would use contraception today, but have no access to advice or services.

—  Around 350 000 women die in childbirth each year, half of these in Africa—the main causes of death being unsafe abortion, Post Partum Haemorrhage, Puerperal Sepsis, Pre-Eclampsia and Obstructed labour.

Women, men, couples should be at the core of the sustainable development agenda, if we want to improve human well being and preserve the quality of the environment.

The Rio+20 Summit should heed the first principle of the 1992 Rio Declaration—that "human beings are at the centre of concern for Sustainable Development"—by taking full account of how population and society interact with the natural environment.

If sustainable development is to mean anything, people must be healthy enough to benefit from it and not have their lives cut off prematurely through a lack of choice.

If we do not put the Human Population and Family Planning, Maternal and Reproductive Health at the core of the sustainable-development agenda, our efforts to improve human well being and preserve the quality of the environment would most likely fail. We will without any doubt jeopardise the Millennium Development Goals.

Regional and national Parliamentary All Party Parliamentary Groups on Population and Development uphold the view that women's empowerment, women's rights and human rights including sexual and reproductive health rights are integral components of population and development strategies designed to improve the quality of life of individuals, couples, families and society in general.

Sustainable development rests on three pillars, these pillars are mutually supportive and create a synergy for sustainable development:

—  Social progress.

—  Economic growth.

—  Protection of the environment and natural resources.

Reaffirming our commitment to the Millennium Declaration (2000) and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (1994) by empowering women through universal access to education, family planning and reproductive health services will ensure:

—  Fewer unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.

—  Reduced Maternal and Infant Mortality & Morbidity rates.

—  Reduced HIV/AIDS prevalence rates.

—  Improved quality of life and well-being.

—  Population stabilisation.

On our journey from Rio to Johannesburg and back to Rio we must go through Cairo—the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD PoA).

At the Rio+20 Summit we urge the UK Government and other countries to:

—  Reaffirm their commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action by making accessible through the primary health system family planning, maternal and reproductive health care.

—  Allocate 10% of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Family Planning, Maternal and Reproductive Health—and enshrine in law 0.7% of GNI allocated to ODA.

In summary Population and Family Planning, Maternal and Reproductive Health must figure prominently on the Rio+20 agenda as a key component of sustainable development.

Population must not be: the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to talk about.

It is time for us to stand up and fight for women's rights including their sexual and reproductive rights.

3 August 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 26 October 2011