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Box 1: Managing the population challenge in the context of sustainable development

The link between population dynamics and sustainable development is strong and inseparable, as reflected in Principle 8 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

“To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.” Rio Declaration, Principle 8 (UN 1992).

This year the world population will reach 7 billion and by mid century grow to over 9 billion. Contrary to previous projections the most recent population projections expect continued population growth thereafter (UN DESA 2009 and 2011). Population growth raises the stakes in efforts to reduce poverty. It not only increases the challenge of feeding a growing population, which crucially depends on higher agricultural output (FAO 2009 and 2010; Tokgoz and Rosegrant 2011), but also requires creation of sufficient employment opportunities, which in turn depend on favorable economic development (ILO 2011; UNFPA 2011a; Basten et al. 2011; Herrmann and Khan 2008).

A transition to a green economy can assist in overcoming the contribution that population growth makes to the depletion of scarce natural resources. The world’s least developed countries (LDCs) are more strongly affected by environmental degradation than most other developing countries (UNCTAD 2010a), so therefore have much to gain from the transition to a green economy.

In addition, changing spatial distributions of populations, driven both by rural to urban migration and by urban growth, are changing environmental impacts and vulnerabilities. When planned,

urbanisation can be a powerful driver of sustainable development. Given that in 2008 the share of the urban population has for the first time exceeded the share of people living in the rural areas at the global level (UNFPA 2007), a transition to a green economy becomes increasingly important. Significantly, in the least developed countries where the majority of people are still living in the rural areas, 2000 to 2010 was the first decade that growth of the urban population outpaced the growth of the rural populations. These types of changes at a societal level can also present opportunities for a green economy to develop.

For example cities can provide essential services, including health and education, at lower costs per capita due to economies of scale benefits. Efficiencies are also realised in the development of vital infrastructure including housing, water, sanitation and transport. Urbanisation can also reduce energy consumption, particularly in transport and housing, and create interactive spaces that further cultural outreach and exchange. Realisation of these positive benefits requires proactive planning for the future demographic changes.

Forward planning by governments and local authorities can address population dynamics in a proactive way. For example, one tool available to assist countries is to make better use of available population data and conduct a systematic population situation analysis (UNFPA 2011b), aiming to highlight how current and projected population trends affect the development of countries. Such analysis provides the necessary foundation to address population dynamics and their links to sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies. Source: UNFPA

Existing policies and market incentives have contributed to this problem of capital misallocation because they allow businesses to run up significant, largely unaccounted for, and unchecked social and environmental externalities. To reverse such misallocation requires better public policies, including pricing and regulatory measures, to change the perverse incentives that drive this capital misallocation and ignore social and environmental externalities. At the same time, appropriate regulations, policies and public investments that foster changes in the pattern of private

investment are increasingly being adopted around the world, especially in developing countries (UNEP 2010).

Why is this report needed now? UNEP’s report, Towards a Green Economy, aims to debunk several myths and misconceptions about greening the global economy, and provides timely and practical guidance to policy makers on what reforms they need to unlock the productive and employment potential of a green economy.


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