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Do good: consume less

April 26, 2012

A group of 23 scientists from across the globe have called for a drastic rethink on consumption to fight poverty as global population rises. They say incentives and regulation are needed to achieve a balance.

throngs of people in Tokyo
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Levels of consumption between developing and developed nations must be rebalanced to fight absolute poverty, which affects around 1.3 billion people globally, according to a new report entitled "People and the Planet" by the Royal Society, Britain's 350-year-old national academy of science. The study was published ahead of the UN's Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, in June.

"The world now has a very clear choice. We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption," Sir John Sulston, fellow at the Royal Society, who also led the report, said. "We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption…Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future."

Population and environment linked

The international team of authors calls on governments to consider population growth and the effects excessive consumption in developed nations have on the world's poorest and "to commit to a more just future based not on material consumption growth for their nations, but on the needs of the global community, both present and future."

The report points out that between 2010 and 2050, the global population will likely rise by 2.3 billion people and become predominantly urban as well as older.

Obese man
Wealthy nations battle obesity, while poor nations struggle to feed peopleImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The authors say that, for too long, the relationship between population and environment has been neglected. Consumption by those that consume the most, the report recommends, should be reduced by encouraging "new socio-economic systems and institutions" and by providing public services that are not based purely on consumption without considering their wider impact.

They found that the average amount of calories consumed globally rose by 15 percent between 1960 and 2005, but in 2010, almost 1 billion people did not get enough calories to be considered healthy.

The scientists also said that the traditional measure of a nation's wealth through gross domestic product (GDP) was "poor" and "does not account for natural capital."

Family planning key

The report also stresses that access to contraception and education on family planning was a key issue in developing nations, especially in Africa, from where it's estimated 70 percent of population growth will come in future.

Sir John Sulston will present key findings of the report to delegates from UN Member States in New York on May 1.

Author: Nicole Goebel
Editor: Michael Lawton