As our planet hits the 7 billion-people mark an international team of population and development experts argues that it is not simply the number of people that matters but more so their distribution by age, education, health status and location that is most relevant to local and global sustainability.
Any realistic attempt to achieve sustainable development must focus primarily on the human wellbeing and be founded on an understanding of the inherent differences in people in terms of their differential impact on the environment and their vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are often closely associated with age, gender, lack of education, and poverty.
These are some of the messages formulated by twenty of the world's leading experts in population, development and environment who met at IIASA in Austria in September 2011, with the objective of defining the critical elements of the interactions between the human population and sustainable development.
The Laxenburg Declaration on Population and Development, as prepared by the Expert Panel, describes the following five actions as necessary to address sustainable development, achieve a 'green economy' and adapt to environmental change:
Recognise that the numbers, characteristics, and behaviors of people are at the heart of sustainable development challenges and of their solutions.
Identify subpopulations that contribute most to environmental degradation and those that are most vulnerable to its consequences. In poor countries especially, these subpopulations are readily identifiable according to age, gender, level of education, place of residence, and standard of living.
- Devise sustainable development policies to treat these sub-populations differently and appropriately, according to their demographic and behavioral characteristics.
- Facilitate the inevitable trend of increasing urbanisation in ways that ensure that environmental hazards and vulnerabilities are under control.
- Invest in human capital - people's education and health, including reproductive health - to slow population growth, accelerate the transition to green technologies, and improve people's adaptive capacity to environmental change.
According to the Panel, "Education increases people's life opportunities in general, greatly contributes to technological and social innovation, and creates the mental flexibility required for a rapid transition to a green economy. This applies to both low- and high-income countries.
Hence, the enhancement of human capital from early childhood to old age through formal and informal education and life-long learning is now known to be a decisive policy priority."
As stated in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, "Human beings are at the centre of concern for sustainable development." Therefore, consideration of the changing numbers, characteristics, and distributions of human beings on the planet must be at the core of any serious analysis of the challenges and opportunities for sustainable development.
About the Statement: Convinced by the need to address sustainable development in a multi-dimensional manner, IIASA (with funding from the United Nations Population Fund) invited more than twenty leading international experts to discuss how population factors promote or impede sustainable development.
The experts come from many relevant disciplines and from all parts of the world. They prepared a statement referred to as The Laxenburg Declaration on Population and Development with specific action points as input to Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in June 2012.