Journal Article

Population policies, programmes and the environment

Human consumption is depleting the Earth’s natural resources and impairing the capacity of life-supporting ecosystems. Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively over the past 50 years than during any other period, primarily to meet increasing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fibre and fuel. Such consumption, together with world population increasing from 2.6 billion in 1950 to 6.8 billion in 2009, are major contributors to environmental damage. Strengthening family-planning services is crucial to slowing population growth, now 78 million annually, and limiting population size to 9.2 billion by 2050. Otherwise, birth rates could remain unchanged, and world population would grow to 11 billion. Of particular concern are the 80 million annual pregnancies (38% of all pregnancies) that are unintended. More than 200 million women in developing countries prefer to delay their pregnancy, or stop bearing children altogether, but rely on traditional, less-effective methods of contraception or use no method because they lack access or face other barriers to using contraception. Family-planning programmes have a successful track record of reducing unintended pregnancies, thereby slowing population growth. An estimated $15 billion per year is needed for family-planning programmes in developing countries and donors should provide at least $5 billion of the total, however, current donor assistance is less than a quarter of this funding target.