Study warns of population challenge

The world faces deepening challenges in the 21st century from an expanding population and limited resources, according to a new report from a British-based scientific group.

Nobel laureate John Sulston, a professor at the University of Manchester, said in a presentation at the United Nations today that “the 21st century is clearly a critical period” as global population grows from 7 billion in 2011 to 11 billion or more by 2050.

Developed countries will need to reduce their consumption if resources are going to be found to bring the world’s 1.3 billion poorest people out of extreme poverty, he said. And more funding is needed for family planning programmes as well as education, he added.

Prof Sulston, a biologist, led the working group that produced the study by The Royal Society entitled People And The Planet. The society, based in London, promotes scientific research and includes many of the world’s most distinguished scientists.

Prof Sulston said the study concluded that “population and consumption must be considered together” if the world is going to be able to sustain the lives of more people and end poverty.

He said there now was “enormous inequality” in the consumption of resources.

Water and food are in surplus in developed countries, while families in the least-developed countries often lack clean water and do not have enough to eat, he said. Meanwhile, the developed countries are using more material in manufacturing and spewing out carbon emissions at rates many times higher than in developing countries.

Prof Sulston said people around the globe must be given equal access to resources.

“Developed countries must reduce their material consumption and the developing countries will need to stabilise their material consumption in order to allow the most deprived to consume more,” he said.

These issues need to be addressed at the UN conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro this June – 20 years after the UN Earth Summit, he said.

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