What’s the relationship between development and population growth?

The population question is a highly charged one and this session tried to unpack some of the main misconceptions which have dogged the area in recent years.

Speakers agreed that the old model of carrying capacity based on aggregate population projection without paying heed to consumption patterns was out of date and should be replaced by a more nuanced approach which takes into account factors like aging, urbanization trends, fertility, migration and mortality.

“Population matters beyond simply size and growth,” said Lori Hunter, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “So many times the neo-Malthusian argument gets the limelight. It’s all about the seven billion, and it’s important, but I would say we need to look at what comprises the seven billion for example the question of fertility decision making.”

Michael Herrmann, Technical Adviser on Population and Economic Development at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said: “It has often been said that development is the best contraceptive.”

The nexus between environmental change and migration: fact or fallacy?

Another misconception that has been widely reported in the media is the question of environment-induced migration – in particular the idea that climate change would lead to mass migration of populations across long distances. Speakers said that demographic research has shown that the most vulnerable households can’t migrate long distances, and that they will only move short distances.

Demographic research has shown that the most vulnerable households can’t migrate internationally and over long distances and that they are likely to move over short distances only. This phenomenon will likely be reinforced due to a decrease in purchasing power as a consequence of environmental change affecting their livelihoods.

Demographics and sustainable development: the question of sustainable consumption is key

At the global level, rising consumption requires an increase in production and services so human wellbeing is inseparable from economic growth and will have an environmental impact. Meeting the needs of a bigger and growing population – for instance the distribution of goods and services – especially in developing countries means that we urgently need to shift to a sustainable economy, with sustainable production and consumption models.

At the local level, there is a need to tackle environmental-human relations and give poor people in remote areas a voice in the sustainable development debate.

The example of local grassroots initiatives in the Philippines was presented. The PATH Foundation in the Philippines supports the transition to a more sustainable use of marine resources in a country in which a large proportion of the population depends on subsistence fishing for their livelihoods.

Joan Regina Castro, Executive Vice-President for the PATH Foundation, said: “If current trends of population growth and coastal resource exploitation continue, availability and affordability of fish to provide a crucial protein source for the Philippines will be lost.”

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