World cannot sustain increasing population growth: UN report

Posted: 21 February 2012

Author: Linton Nightingale

The United Nations has published a grim report warning that time is running out to ensure that there is enough food, water and energy to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population.

The UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, established in 2010 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, warns that the lives of up to 3 billion people could be at risk, and calls on governments to act now as a matter of urgency to tackle sustainable development. With the number of middle-class consumers expected to rise by a further 3 billion by 2040, as our global population swells to 9 billion, demand for global resources will rise exponentially.

3 billion people could be condemned to poverty by 2040, warns the UN. Photo credit: Climate Action

“The current global development model is unsustainable," states the UN report, Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing. “We can no longer assume that our collective actions will not trigger tipping points as environmental thresholds are breached, risking irreversible damage to both ecosystems and human communities. If we fail to resolve the sustainable development dilemma, we run the risk of condemning up to 3 billion members of our human family to a life of endemic poverty. Neither of these outcomes is acceptable, and we must find a new way forward.”

Despite absolute poverty being reduced to 27 percent today from 46 percent in 1990, as a consequence the improvement in quality of life and change in consumer habits has put natural resources under increasing strain. By 2030 we will need to supply the world with 50 percent more food, 30 percent more water and 45 percent more energy, the report states, a position that our natural environment will find impossible to sustain.

“Ecosystems are under stress. Economies are faltering,” says Ban Ki-moon. “The human appetite for resources keeps growing. We need to chart a new, more sustainable course for the future, one that strengthens equality and economic growth while protecting our planet. Sustainable development offers our best chance to change course.”

The report outlines no fewer than 56 recommendations for sustainable development to be used in economic policy, which the panel explains would create a “new political economy” driven towards a more sustainable future.

“Today our planet and our world are experiencing the best of times, and the worst of times,” states the report. “The world is experiencing unprecedented prosperity, while the planet is under unprecedented stress.”

It adds that because of the array of overlapping challenges the world faces, it is more urgent than ever to take action to embrace the principles of the sustainable development agenda. “It is time that genuine global action is taken to enable people, markets and governments to make sustainable choices.” 

“Let's use the upcoming Rio+20 summit to kick off this global transition towards a sustainable growth model for the 21st century that the world so badly needs,” EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters in response to the report.