Nearly two years ago, the world hit a milestone of 7 billion people, and the projections for 2050 continue to suggest an addition of 2-3 billion people. Underlying the concerns over natural resource scarcity and ecosystem health often rests the interests of people. Today as World Population Day is observed around the globe, there is an opportunity to consider how we can manage the resources we have at hand to sustain those people, while not compromising the sustainability of the systems on which we all depend.
Links between population, food security, and environment are strong, but often not explicit. Those groups that are beginning to break down barriers between these topics are emphasizing many similar things. The Aspen Institute, in recognizing the overlap between health, food security, and population, convened a group of public and private sector actors to envision a future beyond 2015 development goals. This vision crossed traditional sectors and silos, while also bringing in sustainability goals. A report from this convening highlighted an example in the Philippines, where without addressing the interconnected challenges of population-health-environment, any attempt to counter hunger would fail.
Another example of integration comes with the World Resources Institute’s flagship World Resources Report this year, focused on creating a sustainable food future. Specifically, it addresses the burning question, “How can the world adequately feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment?” The first installment of the report released early this year introduced a balance between three needs: to close the gap between food available today and what is necessary by 2050; to increase agriculture’s contribution to economic and social development; and to reduce agriculture’s negative impact on the environment and natural resources.
Even some countries are shifting their modes of operation toward more integrated approaches. The interconnected nature of population growth, natural resource strain, and vulnerability to the effects of climate change, has become a key consideration for Malawi in tackling food insecurity and poverty. What does this entail? Better coordination of government agencies and programs, policies that incorporate both climate and population dynamics, and paying adequate attention to women’s roles and rights are all part of the recipe for success.
While we are firmly in an era of high population and depleting or degrading natural resources, there is much that indicates we can also find balance. The groups above are promoting new models, and are hopeful this type of integration will become the new normal. Who else is innovating in this space? What other key questions do we need to focus on to accomplish these goals?Photo credit: nist6ss