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Population and Climate Change in a World of 7 Billion

By news editor, on 15 November 2011

Helen Allwood, Research Grants Assistant, UCL Centre for International Health & Development, reports on ‘Population and Climate Change in a World of 7 Billion’, a high-profile reception held at the House of Commons on 7 November.

With the birth of the seven billionth living person last week, there is no more fitting a time to focus on the population and climate change debate. Never one to miss an opportunity, on Monday, the UCL Institute for Global Health co-hosted a reception at the House of Commons that brought together cross-sector stakeholders to discuss just this.

The event, co-hosted with the Population and Sustainability Network (PSN) and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Population, Development and Reproductive Health, provided key players from the fields of health, development, environment and politics, to name but a few, with a forum to discuss these complex and challenging issues.

Karen Newman, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Julia Bunting and Professor Anthony Costello

The event featured four speakers and saw the launch of two reports:

  • The Population Footprints Symposium report
    This summarises the debate from the two-day Population Footprints Symposium on human population growth and global carrying capacity that took place simultaneously in London and Nairobi on 25–26 May 2011.

The speakers

  • Baroness Jenny Tonge, APPG Chair
  • Ms. Julia Bunting, Team Leader, AIDS and Reproductive Health Team, Department for International Development (DFID)
  • Ms. Karen Newman, Co-ordinator, Population and Sustainability Network (PSN)
  • Professor Anthony Costello, Co-Director, UCL Institute for Global Health (IGH).

Discussion highlights
Chair for the reception Baroness Tonge opened proceedings and stressed the importance of both population and consumption issues to the very real environmental problems we face today. She argued that strong political leadership is needed to ensure that issues related to population growth are addressed in tandem with efforts to reduce consumption, and will be more effective than focusing on either population or consumption alone. She encouraged all to urge their local MPs to take up these issues.

Julia Bunting highlighted “the need to get population and reproductive health into the mainstream”. Pointing to the significance of population and women’s reproductive rights and choices to a wide range of development, environment and economic issues, she emphasised the importance of wider engagement on these issues and of establishing a common ground through which experts from across disciplines can develop recommendations and solutions to shared problems.

Reflecting on the sensitivities and complexities associated with linking population and climate change issues, PSN’s Karen Newman pointed out that while some believe the link is too controversial to discuss, developing countries themselves are identifying the ways in which unsustainable population growth is exacerbating their vulnerability to climate change, and are asking for our help in responding to these challenges.

She argued, therefore, that “we must emphasise that you can care about population and care about human rights”. In a world where every child born has the right to be fed and to be healthy, she concluded that at the same time as focusing on this, there is also a critical need to find a way of increasing investment in family planning programmes that respect and protect human rights.

UCL’s Professor Anthony Costello took the opportunity to make a call to politicians for creative thinking on these critical issues. In relation to reproductive health, he highlighted that there is insufficient funding for family planning and maternal and newborn health programmes, which must receive greater focus and be integrated with wider health programmes as part of overseas development assistance.

On the issue of climate change, he warned of the “dangerous mismatch between science and public opinion” in terms of the level of climate change that it has been agreed by scientists that we must not exceed, and what is actually going to happen if public perception and the response remains the same.

UK greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year on year. Given the catastrophic implications of a rise of more than two degrees Celsius – including for food security and population migration – new solutions and renewed attention is needed, he argued.

Baroness Tonge concluded the speeches by thanking the Leverhulme Trust for their generous sponsorship of the event.

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