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global population in sustainable development- call for evidence

Royal Society - People and the planet: the role of global population in sustainable development

Population is a global issue which is moving back up the agenda. In the run-up to the December 2009 Copenhagen conference on climate change, a number of academics and NGOs called for a fresh look at the factors affecting and affected by changing population. Yet debates remain polarised: some people still see population as a distraction from the more urgent imperative of reducing resource consumption in the wealthiest countries. Others argue it is an issue that will solve itself, as global population size is projected to peak and then fall from the middle of the 21st century.

Population distribution across the planet, as of 2002 (Cartogram by

The Royal Society has convened a working group of experts, chaired by Sir John Sulston FRS, to revisit some of these issues and analyse how population variables will affect and be affected by economies, environments, societies and cultures over the next forty years and beyond.

The aims of the study are to provide policy guidance to decision makers and inform interested members of the public based on a dispassionate assessment of the best available evidence. The scope of the study will be global. It will explicitly acknowledge regional variations in population dynamics. It will look at the implications of population decreases, and increases that are observed and predicted in different parts of the world. It will consider how scientific and technological developments might alter the rate and impact of population changes and affect human well-being.

The study will be completed by early 2012, when the world’s population is expected to exceed 7 billion. The report will be aimed at national and international policy makers, donors and funders, the media, scientific bodies and NGOs. It will be a high profile contribution to the 2012 ‘Rio+20’ UN Earth Summit and also mark the 40th anniversary of ‘The Limits to Growth’.

The study will acknowledge that a wide range of factors affect population dynamics, such as cultural values, economic development, environment, gender and income equality, government policies and human rights. These will be reflected in the study’s selection of experts and disciplines that the study draws upon, but its primary focus will be what new insights and policy guidance the latest scientific evidence can offer to these debates.

The Royal Society has issued a call for evidence. We are seeking as wide a range of informed views as possible to assist our study, from both a national and an international audience. We welcome submissions from academics of all disciplines, policymakers, non-governmental organisations and any other interested parties to inform our study. Organisations and individuals are invited to contribute to the study by responding to the call for evidence. The deadline for submissions is 28 February 2011:

Evidence sought

We invite feedback on the following questions. Please respond to as many or as few questions as you like and, where possible, supply references to (and copies of) published material to support your answers. We would also welcome illustrative examples where possible.Responses are likely to have the greatest impact if they are restricted to four pages plus appendices.

What scientific evidence is available to show how fertility, mortality, migration, ageing and urbanisation will affect or be affected by population levels and rates of change, at both regional and global levels, over the next forty years and beyond?

How fertility, mortality, migration, ageing and urbanisation are influenced by and influence environments, economies, societies and cultures?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of different population modelling methodologies?
What are the key interconnections among population change, environments, economies, societies and cultures? How do these relate to any of the examples listed in the second bullet point of the terms of reference above?
What are the key linkages among population, technology and consumption.
What are the best (or worst) examples of how policy has been effective in managing population changes?
What other issues should our study addresses?

If you have any queries about the study, you can contact us here.