This Policy Position Statement (PPS) sets out CIWEM's position
on the importance of addressing current levels of population
growth, resource consumption and moving towards living within
environmental limits in the UK.
CIWEM calls for:
1. An end, globally, to the presumption that economic growth and
population growth are essential for a successful society, with
societal wellbeing and a healthy natural environment afforded
greater status in this respect.
2. A demonstrable commitment by the Government to align all
aspects of the UK economy, including its population, with the
principle of living within environmental limits.
3. An urgent and informed public debate on sustainable human
population movement and growth for the UK using independent
research and data which also measures the impact of people's
lifestyles on the environment, and considers issues such as faith,
cultural attitudes, poverty and migration.
4. The Government to monitor and report on the impact of
population and people's lifestyles on the environment, such
information being essential to planning and evolving communities
and to planning for action on climate change.
5. Wider education, especially in schools, regarding the
environmental impacts of the UK's consumer culture, with a focus on
more needs-based living, society and family.
6. A complete review of all benefits and fiscal policies to
identify any perverse incentives for people in the UK to have more
than two children, leading to a non-coercive policy which
encourages people to 'stop at two'.
7. Wider public education regarding reproduction and fertility,
in all areas of global society, and provision of free family
planning support to all.
8. The UK to lead the way in international negotiations to
increase levels of overseas development committed to educating men
and empowering women to take greater control of their own
9. A clear and concerted effort to eradicate poverty,
recognising the clear correlation between poverty and higher
reproduction rates. This effort should foster development not based
on a traditional western model and utilise leading techniques and
technologies which are 'light touch' on the environment.
The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
(CIWEM) is the leading professional body for the people who plan,
protect and care for the environment and its resources, providing
educational opportunities, independent information to the public
and advice to government. Members in 98 countries include
scientists, engineers, ecologists and students.
One third of all humans who have ever lived are alive today. The
global population is currently 6.9 billion and is predicted to pass
7 billion in 2011 and rise to around 9 billion people by
2050. Over the past 200 years populations have risen
dramatically (globally from around 1 billion in 1800) as improved
public health and industrialisation driven by the harnessing of
energy from fossil fuels has lead to significant increases in life
expectancy in many nations. Yet today, there is still widespread
poverty and 1.1 billion people lack access to drinking water and
basic sanitation. As the global population grows, two-thirds of the
world's people will face moderate to high water shortages by
It is widely regarded that a fertility rate (births per female)
of 2.1 is the replacement level for humans. The world average,
whilst having fallen over the past few decades is still above this
at 2.5[ii]. In the UK the total fertility rate stood in 2008 at 1.9
with the average in Western Europe at 1.6 and in the USA, 2.1[iii].
In many of these regions population growth will occur largely, if
not entirely, through inward migration.
Typically in less industrialised countries the fertility rate is
higher. The average rate in 2008 for Asia was 2.3 and South
America, 2.2. In sub-Saharan Africa it was 5.3. Broadly speaking,
these rates have declined marginally over the past 10-20 years but
show a link between higher fertility rates, low life expectancy and
where poverty is widespread. Rapidly industrialising countries such
as China and India are closer to the rates of western nations, with
India at 2.7 and China, which has followed its ethically
questionable one child policy, at 1.6.
Demographic development interacts in many ways with social and
economic development. The size and age composition of a population
are determined by fertility and mortality trends which depend on,
among other things, education, income, social norms, and health
provisions. As countries industrialise and these trends change,
infant mortality rates decline. This then leads to a fall in
fertility rates as more children are able to reach adulthood and
provide for their families.
In population literature there has been an assumption that as a
country develops and its affluence increases, pollution levels
increase initially and then later decline (a relationship often
referred to as the environmental Kuznets curve). This has been
attributed to a greater willingness to pay for pollution abatement
and a clean environment alongside the development of 'cleaner'
technologies. However whist this has been shown for some
traditional pollutants such as particulates, the same cannot be
said for others, for example greenhouse gas emissions[iv]. In
industrialised countries, increased prosperity has run side by side
with increased use and manipulation of natural resources from
greater demands for food, water and energy.
Respected recent reports from WWF confirm that humankind has
already breached environmental limits and the capacity of the
planet to support present levels of consumption. For many social,
environmental and economic problems, population growth and
consumption can be attributed as a root cause, and in others, it is
a clear exacerbating factor. CIWEM believes we need to raise
awareness of the issues that uninhibited population growth places
on resources and the environment[v].
At a crude level we currently are facing three critical aspects
of demographic change:
- Industrialised countries that are perpetuating patterns of high
consumption and encouraging others to do the same. These countries
also have ecological footprints which extend way beyond their
borders and may create environmental problems in the countries from
which they import.
- Rapidly industrialising countries exhibiting high rates of
consumption which will in the medium term have high populations and
high levels of consumption. This also includes issues such as
maturing diets and the resources to maintain them.
- Countries that are still facing poverty and depend on large
populations for survival. There needs to be a concerted effort to
eradicate poverty and these countries should not be encouraged to
develop following western development models.
Traditionally population has been discussed as 'the problem'.
This tends to imply that it does not apply to the industrialised
world with declining fertility rates but to the industrialising
world. Yet there are serious ethical issues surrounding a situation
where industrialised countries perpetuate patterns of
over-consumption as ethically no one human on earth should have any
greater right to utilise more than their share of resources than
any other. This balance between growing populations and increasing
levels of consumption adds to the difficulty of discussing
equitable solutions in different parts of the world.
Despite the centrality of population growth and consumption to
many of the world's environmental problems, it remains an issue
that most governments ignore. A marked reluctance to discuss
population publicly, even by the green movement, has added to the
urgency of addressing it now. The charity Population Matters[vi]
have been instrumental in raising awareness by campaigning for the
stabilisation and gradual decrease of the population to sustainable
levels by voluntary means. CIWEM is clear that the problems we face
today are directly related to both of these factors and there is a
need for open and informed public discussion of the issue.
The UK population currently stands at over 61million
people[vii]. In October 2007 the Office for National
Statistics[viii] projected that the UK population would increase to
65 million by 2016 and reach 71 million by 2031. The justification
for these projections lies with natural increase (births
outnumbering deaths) and net inward migration. Migration is an
important driver of population change and the most difficult
component to estimate. The rise in migration in the UK can be
attributed to increases in globalisation, expansion of the EU,
political instability in many regions of the world and the rise in
access to travel[ix].
The UK's population consumes more resources than can be produced
sustainably. Our way of life is maintained by importing and using
resources from other countries, in many cases to the detriment of
the people and the environment in producing areas, and drawing
heavily on non-renewable resources. The New Economics Foundation
third report on interdependence claims that "the UK's patterns of
interdependence will have to change radically if our economy is to
become remotely sustainable"[x]. It found we are no longer able to
meeet our energy needs from domestic resources (with our energy
dependence factor increasing 5 fold between 2004 and 2008) and our
food self-sufficiency is below that of 40 years ago.
The Sustainable Development Commission recommended that the UK's
environmental wellbeing should be measured using the carbon
footprint of consumption as broadly, consumption rates are
reflected by carbon emissions. In the UK context, we are consuming
approximately three times more resources than is 'our fair share',
and display characteristics of a materialistic, consumer culture,
which is completely unsustainable.
Discussion of key issues
CIWEM considers there are five key issues to address regarding
living within environmental limits:
- Resource consumption;
- Carrying capacity for pollutants and consumer culture;
- Population size;
- The location of populations and
- Poverty and population growth
Resource use must be maintained at a sustainable level. Put
simply, resource use may be considered as what we take from the
environment. Technological, economic, and social innovation
have long been means by which a greater number of people can live
from the same environmental resources for example from the
agricultural and industrial revolutions. However some resources are
renewable and others are not. Many renewable resources such as
plant and fish populations are only so if managed properly, i.e.
their exploitation is within certain limits.
According to WWF[xi], mankind is using about 20% more resources
than the planet can sustain in the long term, and humanity's
ecological footprint has more than tripled since 1961. This is by
no means spread evenly across the world. Indeed the world's richest
half billion people (about 7% of the global population) are
responsible for 50% of the world's annual greenhouse gas emissions,
with the poorest 50% responsible for just 7% of global
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was undertaken over a
four-year period leading up to 2005 by 1300 researchers from 95
nations and is the most comprehensive report into the state of the
Planet. The report of the Board of the MA[xiii] raised a number of
key points, which included:
Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services
to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy, and secure
Humans have made unprecedented changes to ecosystems in recent
decades to meet growing demands for food, fresh water, fibre, raw
materials and energy.
These changes have helped to improve the lives of billions, but at
the same time they weakened nature's ability to deliver other key
services such as purification of air and water, protection from
disasters, and the provision of medicines.
It also states that pressures on ecosystems will increase unless
human attitudes and actions change, and nearly two thirds of the
services provided by nature to mankind are in decline, because of
CIWEM believes there must be concerted efforts to significantly
increase resource efficiency, particularly in areas such as
transport, energy (heating and electricity) and water. Reuse and
recycling of materials also saves energy and uses fewer raw
materials. Public attitudes towards consumption must be modified so
that there is less glamour attached to materialistic and highly
consumptive lifestyles, with greater value attached to a more
needs-based approach to living. This represents a very
significant challenge, and it is likely that one of the most
effective ways of engendering more responsible attitudes to
consumption is to include education on this issue in the national
In essence, there is a requirement to move away from economic
models which are based on perpetual growth, based on consumption.
Politically speaking this is an almost unimaginable challenge as
such principles are the foundations of all developed, 'western'
economies. Yet as the results of longitudinal studies of
happiness or life satisfaction published by the Cabinet Office[xiv]
show, levels of happiness rise with GDP until basic needs are met,
at which point increased GDP no longer asserts a positive effect on
happiness. For humanity to survive in the long-term, our
definitions and measures of success must change.
Carrying capacity for pollutants
If we are to live within environmental limits it is essential
that we understand and manage the impacts of resource exploitation
in terms of the associated pollution and other impacts such as
physical destruction of ecosystems (deforestation for agricultural
land creation or logging, for example).
The environment is able to cope with, and reprocess many forms
of pollution, and ecosystems may regenerate with appropriate
careful management regimes. However, the intensity of
contemporary resource exploitation is such that many ecosystems and
environmental processes are under extreme stress from pollution and
physical destruction and are unable to absorb pollutants or
regenerate sufficiently quickly to prevent decline.
For some pollutants such as carbon dioxide we have a fairly
clear scientific understanding of the carrying capacity and the
reductions required[xv]. The Global Commons Institute[xvi] proposed
the system of "Contraction and Convergence", which provides a
mechanism for reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change
in an equitable manner. Its principle could be extended to wider
environmental pollution and resource exploitation quota
systems. Presently many industrialised countries effectively
export much of the pollution associated with their consumption, as
manufacturing and raw materials production have moved to less
industrialised countries where labour and resources are cheaper and
environmental regulations are less stringent. As such
countries industrialise and their domestic demand for products
increases as a result of wealth creation, such environmental
pressures are likely to increase further before they become more
As previously stated the population of the UK is expected to
reach 71 million by 2031. Demand for housing is currently greater
than supply in the UK. In terms of projected future housing growth,
the Department for Communities and Local Government[xvii]
attributes 131,000 of the projected 223,000 new homes required
annually to 2026 to population growth. 33 per cent of the growth is
attributable to inward migration.
CIWEM is concerned that Government must recognise that while a
large population may bring benefits of wealth creation during
periods of economic growth through employment, the population must
be recognised as something other than economic units contributing
to gross domestic product (GDP). Large, unsustainable populations
when allied to high levels of consumption cause environmental
degradation and contribute to climate change, and both these
factors must be addressed.
The UK population is ageing with the over-65s projected to
increase in number by 66% between 2007 and 2032, to make up nearly
23% of the total UK population[xviii]. CIWEM supports greater
flexibility in relation to policies on the age of retirement to
allow those who want to, to continue working. A strengthening of
social and family values should also be engendered to encourage a
wider sense of responsibility for the elderly within families. The
myth that a growing population is required to maintain the ability
to pay for an ageing population must be debunked. The benefits of
such a position - like those of perpetual economic growth - are
founded on short-termism and are not sustainable in the
CIWEM asserts that action on climate change and sustainability -
at both local and global levels - cannot take place in a meaningful
way without a proper analysis and discussion of the effects of
population growth. This is an emotive and difficult issue,
but nevertheless it is a debate which must be had. 'Securing the
Future', states that: "The demands made on natural resources
continue to grow as people's desire to consume more is coupled with
a rise in population." CIWEM welcomes the recognition of this link,
yet we are concerned that the strategy goes no further in terms of
stating whether the rise in population should be tackled as part of
living within environmental limits.
Action on population continues to be negatively associated with
human rights abuses associated with coercive policies in countries
such as China and India. CIWEM believes that the key strategy in
tackling unsustainable population growth should be education and
awareness programmes, relating to both the availability of family
planning support and to the environmental impacts of population
growth. At the same time, the feasibility and appropriateness of
modification of state benefits such that they are profiled to
disincentivise large families, should be seriously examined.
Here a delicate balance would need to be found between actively
encouraging a more sustainable population size and protecting the
poor and vulnerable.
The location of populations
Living within environmental limits is not solely about resource
use. The concentration of populations in set locations, e.g.
large cities means that populations are less mobile and adaptable,
and potentially more vulnerable to environmental change - some of
which may be exacerbated by mankind's resource use and
pollution. Projections of likely future climate change
indicate that this may become an increasing issue.
In the UK, attention has recently focussed on the proportion of
the population at risk of flooding either on river floodplains or
from coastal erosion and sea level rise and those where there are
high demands for water. It is essential to understand that
certain environmental phenomena cannot be prevented and associated
risks to human populations eliminated. It is therefore necessary to
understand at what point human activity should be limited in a
given location because of the existence of environmental hazards,
which can only be managed to a certain extent. Appropriate planning
and decision-making frameworks should be put in place to ensure
that populations are not put at undue risk because of the existence
of environmental phenomena. In the global context it is
projected that by 2025, 2.75 billion people will be exposed to
coastal threats associated with climate change such as sea level
rise or stronger hurricanes because of the ongoing trend of
development near the coast.
Poverty and population growth
High birth rates and poverty are inextricably linked. In
many countries childhood mortality remains so high that families
have large numbers of children in order to provide a greater
likelihood that a certain number will survive to adulthood and so
support ageing parents. Without resources to secure their
future people rely on their families. For those living on the
margins of survival, children as young as 12 will be contributing
to the family with income or labour. High fertility rates also
exist where there are few opportunities for women to work outside
Elimination of poverty and provision of better healthcare is
key. Additionally, it remains common for women in certain cultures
to have little or no control over their fertility, with pregnancy
effectively forced upon them by men. Here, education of men,
leading to greater respect for women, is essential. Slower
population growth offers a demographic dividend, which opens the
door to economic progress and permits countries to invest in
education, health and environmental improvements; and to give
greater control to women over their own fertility. Large families
are usually not the choice of the poor, but a result of their
inability to exercise their options to manage their family size.
Wherever fertility has fallen there is little doubt that female
empowerment to control fertility is a key part of the equation.
According to the UN, little progress has been made in reducing
extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, where the poverty rate has
declined only slightly, from 58 to 51 per cent between 1990 and
2005[xix]. NEF has argued "the only effective and socially
acceptable path to influence population dynamics is through
eradicating poverty and reducing inequality, this is hardwired to
ending rich overconsumption. Overconsumption drives both population
growth and movement of people within and across borders. If the
latter is to be reduced, the consumption patterns of rich countries
must first be cut back to sustainable levels"[xx].
Note: CIWEM Policy Position Statements (PPS) represent the
Institution's views on issues at a particular point in time. It is
accepted that situations change as research provides new evidence.
It should be understood, therefore, that CIWEM PPS's are under
constant review, and that previously-held views may alter and lead
to revised PPS's.
 Living within environmental limits is defined in 'Securing
the Future' as: "Respecting the limits of the planet's environment,
resources and biodiversity - to improve our environment and ensure
that the natural resources needed for life are unimpaired and
remain so for future generations."
[i] CIWEM evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change
Group. October 2009.
"Climate change equity: is it a plan, an aspiration or a
fashion statement?" /policy-and-international/consultation.aspx
[ii] World Bank, World Development Indicators - Last
updated Apr 2, 2011
[iii] Population Reference Bureau: 2009 World Population Data
[iv] IPCC special report on emissions scenarios http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/sres/emission/050.htm
[v] CIWEM evidence to Royal Commission on Environmental
Pollution. November 2009. "The Environmental Impacts of Demographic
change in the UK". /policy-and-international/consultation.aspx
[vi] Population Matters, 2011. http://populationmatters.org/
[x] NEF. 2009. The consumption explosion, the third
[xii] NEF. 2009. The consumption explosion, the third
[xiii] Statement of the MA Board: Living Beyond our Means:
Natural Assets and Human well-Being, 2005 (
[xiv] The Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, 2002. Life
satisfaction: The state of knowledge and implications for
[xv] Forum for the future. 2010. Growing pains: population and
sustainability in the UK.
[xvi] A Meyer. GCI Briefing: Contraction and Convergence.
[xvii] Communities and Local Government: New projections of
households for England and the regions to 2029, March 2007
[xviii] Forum for the future. 2010. Growing pains: population
and sustainability in the UK.
[xix] UN. Millenium development goals progress report
[xx] NEF. 2009. The consumption explosion, the third