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Scientists urge Rio action on population and consumption

Scientists urge Rio action on population and consumption

More than 100 academies urge world leaders to tackle unsustainable population growth and consumption, or risk "catastrophe"

By James Murray 14 Jun 2012

More than 100 scientific academies from around the world have today urged world leaders to use next week's Rio +20 Earth Summit to take tangible steps to address unsustainable population growth and patterns of consumption, warning that "a failure to act will put us on track to alternative futures with severe and potentially catastrophic implications for human well-being".

The group, which includes the UK's Royal Society and many of its equivalent institutions around the world, issued a joint statement arguing that "population and consumption are at the heart of sustainable development" and warning that with global population expected to rise to between eight and 11 billion people by 2050, urgent action is required to curb both population growth and consumption levels.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde warns world risks triple crisis

The intervention is significant as for the first time it brings together academies from both the industrialised and developing world to state categorically that population policies have a role to play in tackling the planet's environmental challenges.

In the past, many governments in the developing world have been loath to discuss population growth as they regard it as a distraction from the issue of tackling unsustainably high levels of consumption in the industrialised world.
"Both [population and consumption] are politically and ethically sensitive, but it is essential that this does not lead to them being neglected by policy makers," the statement says.
"The world needs to adopt a rational and evidence-based approach to addressing the issues raised by population growth and unsustainable consumption patterns, one that respects human rights and the legitimate aspirations of people and countries with low incomes to improve their living standards and levels of well-being."

Population and over consumption are both currently mentioned in the draft text being negotiated by officials ahead of the full Rio Summit next week.

However, the passage on population growth only commits governments to "systematically consider population trends" when developing policies, and calls from developing nations for a formal pledge to tackle "unsustainable consumption and production patterns" are being vetoed by the US and the EU.

The statement from the academies makes a series of recommendations, including a call for action in higher income countries to "reduce levels of damaging consumption and develop more sustainable alternatives", and demands for policies that "encourage 'green economy' innovations".

The Rio Summit is expected to discuss proposals for new measures of GDP based on so-called "natural capital" that take better account of the damage done to the environment by unsustainable consumption patterns, while a number of governments and businesses are keen to push forward plans for more sustainable and resource efficient business models that replace high levels of consumption with leasing or closed loop recycling systems.

However, industrialised nations remain reluctant to agree to any text that can be interpreted as a demand for a decline in developed world living standards.

The summit is due to kick off next week with concerns mounting that the central negotiating text is barely 20 per cent finished with fierce disagreements on a number of fronts.
World leaders are expected to agree a package of new targets and proposals governing marine protection, sustainable agriculture, natural capital and sustainable development.

However, critics have warned that the measures currently being discussed are insufficiently ambitious given the scale of the climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity loss threats the world faces, while there are also concerns that many aspects of the agreement will not come into effect until 2015.

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