People and the planet – A report from the Royal Society
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People and the planet – A report from the Royal Society

There are two important pieces of ‘grey literature’ today: the first, from the Royal Society, is a report on how global population and consumption are linked, and the implications for a finite planet. There was also a useful interview on the UK radio programme “Today” about 6.45 am; since the programme is still running I can’t post a link to “listen again”, but it may be at The second report is about the economic case for investing in the environment.

The global report from the RS committee, led by Sir John Sulston, emphasizes the problem of unsustainable consumption in industrialized countries and unsustainable population growth in developing countries, with many obvious cross-overs as the poor increase their consumption (not least of meat), and consumption converts to environmental degradation in the developed world.

With its clear writing and important message, as would be expected from the Royal Society, there is little point in my paraphrasing the succinct report summary here, so hence I am quoting the summary in full:

“Rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and wellbeing, and the natural environment. This report gives an overview of how global population and consumption are linked, and the implications for a finite planet.

Working Group chair Sir John Sulston FRS, Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics & Innovation, University of Manchester.
Key recommendations

Key recommendations include:

The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.

The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.

Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.

Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Other recommendations made in the report focus on:

the potential for urbanisation to reduce material consumption
removing barriers to achieve high-quality primary and secondary education for all
undertaking more research into the interactions between consumption, demographic change and environmental impact
implementing comprehensive wealth measures
developing new socio-economic systems. ”


Editor Pat Heslop-Harrison

Pat Heslop-Harrison is Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester. He is also Chief Editor of Annals of Botany.

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