Population Matters

Resilient People, Resilient Planet

January 30th, 2012

The UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability has just released its final report (“Resilient People, Resilient Plant: a future worth choosing“).  The panel, which was chaired by Tarja Halmen, president of Finland, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, took an appropriately broad view of sustainability, looking at measures of human development, as well as environmental and natural resource indicators.  And not surprisingly it paints a mixed picture. While highlighting progress with respect to a number  of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it also notes the continued deterioration in many of the resources and biosystems on which continued human progress depends. 

Most importantly, it acknowledges that the current human trajectory is not sustainable, and it warns that, “The signposts are clear: We need to change dramatically, beginning with how we think about our relationship to each other, to future generations, and to the eco-systems that support us….Continuing on the same path will put people and our planet at greatly heightened risk.”

The report makes 56 specific recommendations, a number of which deserve special recognition, including support for expanding family planning and reproductive health options, incorporating sustainability considerations into national strategic planning, creation of a Sustainable Development Index, improvement in gender equity, and the development of  a set of “sustainable development goals” similar to the MDGs.

But perhaps the most noteworthy part of the report is its recognition of the need for a people-centered approach to sustainable development.  The report stresses that we need to empower people to make sustainable choices.  And that certainly applies to the need to empower women to be able to decide the number and spacing of their children. 

Today’s report is a welcome contribution to the growing global debate over sustainability, but the real test will come in June, when world leaders assemble for the Rio+20 Summit.  We need a strong and renewed commitment from world leaders to sustainability.  Without it, it appears unlikely that the human trajectory will change in time to avoid the real life consequences that flow from living unsustainability.  Indeed, we are already struggling with some of those consequences:  climate change, falling water tables, depleted fish stocks, etc.  The question is whether reports such as this one will spur us to move decisively to avoid far more serious damage to people and the planet.

Stay tuned.

 Posted by Robert J. Walker, president of the Population Institute

2 Responses to “Resilient People, Resilient Planet”

  1. Sumner Berg Says:

    I think that humanity has past the point of solving our sustainability problems. Mother Nature will eventually do some serious reorganization of the way the world is zoned. Most of the countries don’t have concerned leaders they are only lining their pockets and looking after themselves and those protecting them from the people. I wish that we were smart enough to realize that religions which were all made up from our ignorance of the world we are living in should be scrapped and we started ‘thinking’. That would be a start! We are stuck in the quicksand too tightly and will never escape.

  2. Baba OReilly Says:

    Well, not all religions are the same, and I know for a fact there are many people of faith who are interested in, and working toward, earth stewardship and sustainability. More than I have seen in my 50 years here. At times I have and do share some of your pessimism, but it’s important to realize we can’t know or see everything, and while we may not be able to chart the exact optimal course through the situation as we understand it right now, the situation can and will change, and it is probably not exactly how we see it now. So while the situation may seem dismal now, this may not be entirely accurate.
    One thing to remember is that if we *don’t* make whatever efforts we can, we are assuring ourselves of the dismal future we may in darker moments envision. So if you can, just allow for the possibility we can make it, and just do whatever bit you can. And if we all do that we just might get somewhere :-)

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