Knowledge for better food systems

People and the planet: Royal Society Report

The Royal Society has published a new report arguing that the most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise consumption levels, then reduce them, to help the poorest 1.3 billion people to escape absolute poverty through increased consumption. Alongside this, education and voluntary family planning programmes must be supported internationally to stabilise global population. 

Key recommendations are as follows:

  • 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 increased per capita consumption for this group, allowing improved nutrition and healthcare, and reduction in family size in countries with high fertility rates. It will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
  • In the most developed and the emerging economies, unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies, and is critical to ensuring a sustainable future for all. At present, consumption is closely linked to economic models based on growth. Improving the wellbeing of individuals so that humanity flourishes rather than survives requires moving from current economic measures to fully valuing natural capital. Decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs is needed urgently for example by reusing equipment and recycling materials, reducing waste, obtaining energy from renewable sources, and by consumers paying for the wider costs of their consumption. Changes to the current socio-economic model and institutions are needed to allow both people and the planet to flourish by collaboration as well as competition during this and subsequent centuries. This requires farsighted political leadership concentrating on long-term goals.
  • Global population growth needs to be slowed and stabilised, but this should by no means be coercive. A large unmet need for contraception remains in both developing and developed countries. Voluntary family planning is a key part of continuing the downward trajectory in fertility rates, which brings benefits to the individual wellbeing of men and women around the world. In the long-term a stabilised population is an essential prerequisite for individuals to flourish. Education will play an important role: well-educated people tend to live longer healthier lives, are more able to choose the number of children they have and are more resilient to, and capable of, change. Education goals have been repeatedly agreed by the international community, but implementation is poor.
  • 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 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.
  • Reference

  • The Royal Society. (2012). People and the planet. The Royal Society Science Policy Centre report 01/12 Issued: April 2012 DES2470. London: The Royal Society.

You can download the report here.
 

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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