Meeting challenges of rising population

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CHALLENGES: Unsustainable consumption and resource depletion cannot continue

Dr Ahmad IbrahimTHE Inter-Academy Panel (IAP) brings together many academies of sciences around the world. The Academy of Sciences Malaysia has been an active member for many years now. The IAP provides a platform for members to exchange and articulate views and opinions on the many issues faced by humanity. The intention is to bring to the attention of the world the many issues confronting mankind so that urgent measures are taken to resolve them.

A recent media release by the IAP, in conjunction with World Population Day on Wednesday, warns of the unresolved challenges faced by the global community, urging the governments of the world to take action. Top of the list is the increasing population growth and unsustainable consumption. Together the two pose the greatest challenges facing the world.

"The global population is currently around seven billion and most projections suggest it will probably lie between eight and 11 billion by 2050. Most of the increase will occur in low-income countries. Global consumption levels are at an all-time high, largely because of the high per capita consumption of developed countries. At the same time, 1.3 billion people remain in absolute poverty, unable to meet even their basic needs."

According to the communication release, "population and patterns of consumption should be of major concern to policymakers. This is because they determine the rates at which natural resources are exploited. They also directly impact on the ability of the earth to provide food, water, energy and other resources required by its inhabitants. Current patterns of consumption, especially in high-income countries, are eroding natural capital at rates that are severely damaging the interests of future generations."

Population growth can contribute to people migration, another growing global concern. This can be between countries or rural urban movement. By 2050, 70 per cent of the world's population will live in cities posing challenges for urban planning and logistics. There may be some economic upside, but can be potentially disruptive if not properly planned.

How can the issues be addressed? Though both issues are politically and ethically sensitive, they should not be neglected by policymakers. The call is for a rational and evidence-based approach. The solution must respect human rights and the legitimate aspirations of countries with low-income to improve their living standards.

The IAP recommends that population and consumption are considered in all policies, including those related to poverty reduction and economic development, global governance, education, health, gender equality, biodiversity and the environment. Action is critically needed in higher-income countries to arrest escalating consumption patterns. The least developed countries should avoid

repeating the consumption habits of the advanced nations. Programmes that promote the relevant education should be central to the strategies to slow down unsustainable population growths.

They further recommend embracing the "green economy", designed simultaneously to increase human well-being and reduce environmental impacts. They strongly encourage using existing knowledge more effectively and to prioritise research in the natural and social sciences that will provide innovative solutions to the challenges of sustainability. The bottomline is there is need for urgent action.

"The common goal for the IAP remains the improvement of the quality of life for all, for those living now and in the future, and in particular to help build the knowledge base required to achieve these aims. The choices made about population and resource use over the next 50 years will have effects that last for centuries. There are a range of possible futures. If we act now, it is realistic to imagine trajectories where population growth comes to a halt, consumption becomes sustainable, human-induced global change is kept within manageable limits, and human well-being increases.

"A failure to act will put us on track to alternative futures with severe and potentially catastrophic implications for human well-being. The longer the delay, more radical and difficult measures will be needed. Everyone has a role to play: individuals, non-governmental organisations, and both the public and private sectors. It is critical that national and international policy makers, acting individually and collectively, take immediate action to address these difficult but vitally important issues."

People walking along the main shopping street of Istiklal in Istanbul. on July 11. , 2012. Turkey is likely to overtake Britain as Europe’s third-biggest electricity consumer within a decade and become an energy trading hub, capitalising on its booming population and economy. Reuters pic


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