Demographic factors, including population growth, combined with poverty and lack of access to resources in some areas, and excessive consumption and wasteful production patterns in others, cause or exacerbate problems of environmental degradation, resource depletion, and climate change, and ultimately inhibit sustainable development. Widening gaps in the patterns of consumption and production between rich and poor countries and between communities within countries, social inequities and imbalances in the access to social and economic opportunities at the national, regional and global levels are closely associated with environmental degradation and the unsustainable use of natural resources and perpetuate the cycle of poverty.
Policies dealing with climate change should take into account their broader implications for population dynamics and socio-economic development. Environmental concerns, including climate change, should be mainstreamed into development activities and should be incorporated into economic, population, health, energy and agriculture policies. They should also feature prominently in policies and programmes that address emergency situations. Enhanced regional collaboration is particularly important since many environmental challenges affect several countries, sub-regions or entire regions.
Climate change and population growth
There is a link between population growth and climate change, and thus slowing and stabilising the rate of population growth may give countries time to take measures to meet people's needs while protecting the environment through measures such as conserving fresh water, introducing better farming methods, and providing incentives to encourage sustainable development practices. For both developed and developing countries, the interplay of population and intensity of economic activities leads to varying levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Population size, growth rate, composition and distribution comprise only one set of, and in many cases not the most dominant, variables in this complex relationship.
Climate change is bound to have significant impacts on socio-economic variables such as the standards of living, health, and population dynamics, including migration, urbanization, changes in age structure and composition. These impacts, in turn, have potential implications on climate change and environmental sustainability. Unmanaged urbanization very often tends to outpace the development of infrastructure and environmental safeguards leading to high pollution and carbon dioxide emission, which impacts on climate change. Shifts in population age structure may also have important effects on resource demand.
Poorest countries hardest hit
The impact of population dynamics on climate change is most keenly felt in the poorest countries where population growth is high and where the resources, including technological assets, for mitigation and adaptation are least available, and the prospects for economic growth and development are most challenging due to a number of factors, including institutional weaknesses.
UNFPA focuses on the population-poverty-environment nexus and places special emphasis on those countries and geographical areas that are experiencing the most acute environmental problems and where activities can provide the most immediate and positive effects on the most vulnerable, particularly women, young people, the elderly, and the poor.
UNFPA's strategic focus in addressing issues related to population, poverty and the environment include:
1) Data collection and research. The Fund supports activities that promote the collection, analysis and greater utilization of policy-relevant population data for informed environmental decision-making and planning processes, including for urban planning, particularly at local and district levels, including detailed mapping of population and environment interactions.
2) Capacity building. UNFPA promotes the strengthening of institutional capacity at national level to ensure a better understanding of the linkages between population, poverty and the environment.
3) Policy Dialogue. UNFPA supports policy dialogue, networking, and partnerships at all levels to promote policies that address the linkages between population dynamics and resource use and environmental management. It promotes strategies that can mitigate the negative effects of climate change on the most vulnerable populations. UNFPA also promotes the mainstreaming of population and environment issues into broader development planning processes.
4) Advocacy. UNFPA supports advocacy work that reaches out to different government and non-government constituencies and draws attention to the population-poverty-environment nexus. It supports public awareness and education on the importance of environmental sustainability.
Through these strategic focus areas, UNFPA supports countries to better position themselves to eradicate poverty, improve reproductive health and rights, and to advance safe motherhood, gender equality and women's empowerment.
For more information on population, poverty and the environment, please see the following reports: