By Meghan Grizzle, World Youth Alliance Research and Policy Specialist Reviewed By Andreas Widmer,
Director of Entrepreneurship Programs Catholic University of America and Vincenzina Santoro,
Former Vice President and Economist of JPMorgan & Co. and UN Representative of the American Family Association of New York
World Youth Alliance • 228 East 71 Street • New York, NY 10021 • www.wya.net
World Youth Alliance | 2
On October 31, 2011, the Earth’s 7 billionth person was born,1 bringing to the world another life full of potential and promise. For some people, this is cause for concern in the context of sustainable development. They believe that we cannot continue to meet the needs of each person while sustaining the Earth’s resources. They view each additional person as another burden on the environment or as another mouth to feed, and thus they call for increased provision of family planning services and other means to restrain population growth. Others, however, recognize the potential of each person and the creativity they represent for the development of economic activity and the care of the environment. The more people there are on this Earth, the more creators, innovators, and developers there are. This view understands that it is poverty, not a growing population, that creates problems. The solution is therefore for people to get out of poverty through a focus on human development through education, employment, and access to various forms of capital. This paper begins with an introduction to the components of sustainable development as presented in United Nations conference documents. Next, it discusses the nexus of sustainable development and population-related issues, highlighting the dangerous argument that limiting population growth is a prerequisite for sustainable development. This includes a survey of some countries’ misguided attempts at limiting their populations through coercive government policies. The paper continues by considering how the Earth’s greatest resource—the creativity of humans—is able to make the world a better place even in the face of a growing population. The paper concludes with an overview of a positive approach to sustainable development, one that tackles the root causes of poverty and allows the creativity of the human person to flourish.
II. Introduction to sustainable development
A. Sustainable development at the United Nations
Several United Nations conferences on sustainable development have taken place. In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden.2 The first UN conference on the environment, it established the United Nations Environment Programme and spurred the creation of national environmental ministries.3 Twenty years later, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.4 Otherwise known as the Earth Summit, it had the participation of 172 governments, including 108 heads of State or Government.5 The Earth Summit produced several consensus
UNFPA, STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2011: PEOPLE AND POSSIBILITIES IN A WORLD OF 7 BILLION 6 (2011) [hereinafter POPULATION 2011]. 2 JOHN BAYLIS, STEVE SMITH, & PATRICIA OWENS, THE GLOBALIZATION OF WORLD POLITICS 325 (2008). 3 Id. 4 Id. 5 UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992), http://www.un.org/geninfo/bp/enviro.html (last visited June 14, 2012).
World Youth Alliance | 3
documents, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development6 and Agenda 21, which specifically outlines an action plan for sustainable development at all levels of government and society.7 After the Earth Summit, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development was created to monitor the implementation of the Rio plans of action.8 Ten years after the Earth Summit, a follow-up conference in Johannesburg, South Africa produced the...