Why Isn't Sustainable Population Part of SDGs?

Published: 26th September 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2015 10:51 PM   |  A+A-

A great event is taking place at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, between September 25-27, 2015. More than 150 world leaders, including our Prime Minister, are attending the UN Sustainable Development Summit, to formally adopt the new sustainable development agenda. This agenda serves as a template for action for all governments of the world for the next fifteen years, to promote prosperity among their people, and to protect the planet for posterity. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the Millennium Development Goals which expire in 2015. International discussions regarding the SDGs started in 2012 and resulted in the final document, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in the UN Sustainable Development Summit. This document contains seventeen goals, based on a consensus of 193 countries, which cover almost all the priority concerns of societies across the world.  They may be grouped as:

Poverty related — to end poverty, hunger, malnutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all; achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Environment related — to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Economic related — to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation; reduce inequality within and among countries; make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; and Equity related — to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and Governance related — to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

These universal sustainable development goals for the betterment of people across the globe and for the good health of mother earth are badly needed, especially at a time when the mantra of greed and profit is destroying whole eco systems, whether on land, or on water, or in the skies. We have brought our planet to a sorry state with our avarice and exploitation, and nature has started showing us in no uncertain terms, the results of our deeds. Climate change and global warming have become a reality across the world, with weather and rainfall patterns changing drastically. Their disastrous  long term effects have been recorded by scientists all over the world and are gradually being validated by events all around us — rising temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, erratic rainfall, drought, to name a few. The greatest sufferers of these shocks are the poor and vulnerable, something they have already started suffering.

What I find missing notably in the list of sustainable goals is the goal for achieving sustainable levels of population growth, and I wonder why this, a seriously relevant goal was excluded. As far as India is concerned, we must understand that the most pernicious and potent cause of our poverty is our uncontrolled population growth, as it far exceeds our growth of capital and national wealth. This must be halted with all our national might. Nature’s bounty is not infinite, especially when we damage and deplete the earth by human abuse — unlimited pollution, filthy rivers, holes in our ozone layer, CO 2 emissions, melting ice caps, global warming resulting from our fetish for artificial warming and cooling. Obscurantists and fanatics, who refuse to see contemporary reality for population stabilisation, need to be educated that our country needs youth who are healthy in body and mind, and free in thought, and our population and economic policies must also reflect our genuine secularism. I hope our Ministries of Health, Human Resources, and Minorities will show harmony of thought and action, and bring out an enlightened rule of law that shall make the nation an enviable lesson and model for the entire comity of nations.

Thomas Malthus in “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” published in 1798, made a somewhat pessimistic prediction about the threat of poverty and the suffering that goes with it. He forcefully argued that development of mankind was severely limited by the pressure that population growth exerted on availability of food. It was his firm conviction that since food and passion between the sexes are essential for human existence, the world’s population would increase at a faster rate than its food supply.

Population grows at a geometric rate but the production of food only grows arithmetically. Malthus gloomily predicted that growth of poverty and social conflict was inevitable. But the Industrial Revolution that soon followed in Europe falsified his prediction for quite some time. This new phenomenon produced a remarkable increase in productivity, particularly generated by unlocking of energy contained in fossil fuels like coal and oil. Availability of energy increased six fold between 1820 and 1950, while population only doubled.

Yes, this prosperity boom made us forget the Malthusian horror; but another 65 years have gone by and it is time to recall the Malthusian nightmare and think of mastering it again. Scholar James Martin in his excellent book, “The Meaning of the 21st Century,” tells us that the number of people that the Earth can support in the second half of this century will decline as the ecological footprint grows due to increasing consumption patterns. It will also decline as global warming shrinks farm production of marginal areas and increases spread of deserts. Farm production will also decrease as aquifers run dry and huge amounts of water are diverted to cities. Modellers attempt to calculate the future increases in grain prices.

Today, we have a fairly good understanding of the Earth’s control mechanisms, and we also have highly intricate models of climate change. The conclusion is that the Earth may not be able to support today’s population for a decent life. The drive for eliminating poverty must be combined with a drive for population decline in overpopulated regions of the globe.  I expect that the PM and his advisors are qualified to handle this revived probability of an environmental and social collapse of the world in which our young are living today.

The author is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.Email: rambjethmalani@yahoo.co.in

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