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The difference we can make – the future we can have

In this guest post Roger-Mark De Souza, Vice President of Research and Director of the Climate Initiative at Population Action International, argues that population needs to be on the agenda for a future of climate compatible development, and outlines how this can be achieved.  

In late May, I presented research on population and climate dynamics in hotspots at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, in a session organised by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. As we prepare for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June, I reflect on the roles of population dynamics and climate compatible development for ensuring a future where we can increase the resilience of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

1. Improving our well-being and the future we can have is within our reach: We can take action to improve well-being through specific actions that can produce short term results. This is a key message encapsulated in the concept of climate compatible development, reflected in many presentations and discussions that I heard at Planet Under Pressure. Even though others were not calling it “climate compatible development”, the essence and the meaning behind the research was the same – small concrete discrete steps are possible, and taking action on population dynamics is one of them.

2. Population is on the agenda: Population issues – growth, density, distribution, aging, gender – were a constant at Planet Under Pressure – and in more ways than just looking at population as a driver. It is clear that there is interest, and a need, to address population as a key component of climate compatible development.

3. But those concerns and issues must be location specific, and must be contextualized for the policy and programmatic environment: Population issues must be framed in the appropriate context – and must move beyond academic exploration. I attended one session where a paper presented an academic supposition of whether we should invest in consumption versus fertility reduction to produce short-term returns for climate, but the analysis was completely devoid of any political, policy or programmatic truth testing. We must factor in those considerations when making recommendations, if ultimately we are really looking to make the difference that we can.

4. Natural scientists and social scientists need to collaborate to advance programme and policy: The undercurrent of the meeting was a separation between natural science and social science. It is clear that there is an ongoing need for greater, and better, collaboration between social and natural scientists. Social dimensions have concrete impacts on natural science – and point to solutions and innovative interventions which must be truth tested, as much as possible, before they can be applied in specific locales to bring about positive changes in improving our resilience to climate change impacts.

5. We must ensure climate compatible development on the Road to the Rio+20 Earth Summit and beyond: We need to ensure that our time invested at conferences such as Planet Under Pressure – and indeed, our investments in science – are not another missed opportunity, particularly leading up to the Rio+20 meeting. Population is barely mentioned in the declaration coming out of the Planet Under Pressure conference, while urbanisation is noted in the final conference press release. But it is well-established that the environmental impact of human activity is attributable to three principal determinants—the rate of economic growth, the rate of technological progress in production and distribution processes, and the rate of population growth.

Past policies and the current debate have not adequately addressed these determinants and their inter-linkages. In recent years, the promotion of greener economies, which addresses two of these determinants— economic growth and technological progress—have received increasing attention. Indeed, this is a significant component of the Rio+20 framework.

Rio+20 and the Millennium Development Goals review process present critical opportunities for international leaders to agree and commit to urgent action required to promote a new, sustainable model of development that reflects environmental limits and seeks to deliver prosperity for all – the key concepts enshrined in the approach of climate compatible development.

Examining, understanding and integrating demographic data and analysis into planning, programming and policy provides a number of opportunities to determine influential investments that help policymakers, programme planners and concerned citizens address the impacts of population changes on our lives. In so doing, we empower women and families to take action to realise the positive changes they want in their lives – and to increase their resilience against the tide of an ever changing climate.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

Image courtesy of the World Bank.