Over consumption vs rapid population growth - a world out of balance

Over-consumption in rich countries and rapid population growth in the poorest both need to be tackled to put society on a sustainable path, a new report says.

An expert group convened by the Royal Society spent nearly two years reading evidence and writing their report.

Firm recommendations include giving all women access to family planning, moving beyond GDP as the yardstick of economic health and reducing food waste.

The report will feed into preparations for the Rio+20 summit in June.

"This is an absolutely critical period for people and the planet, with profound changes for human health and wellbeing and the natural environment," said Sir John Sulston, the report's chairman.

"Where we go is down to human volition - it's not pre-ordained, it's not the act of anything outside humanity, it's in our hands."

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Sir John shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, and now chairs the Institute for Science Ethics and Innovation at Manchester University.

The report backs the notion that humanity has already moved beyond "safe" planetary boundaries on biodiversity loss, climate change and the nitrogen cycle, risking severe impacts in the future

"The environment is the economy to some extent”

Prof Jules Pretty
Essex University
As well as supporting family planning and universal education, the Royal Society says a priority must be to lift the poorest 1.3bn people in the world out of extreme poverty.

If this means increased consumption of food, water and other resources, the experts conclude, that is simply the right thing to do.

Meanwhile they say that the richest must cut back on the material resources they consume - though that might not affect living standards.

Eliminating food waste, slashing fossil fuel burning and switching economies from goods to services are among the simple measures advocated to reduce the developed world's footprint without reducing the prosperity of its citizens.

"A child in the developed world consumes 30-50 times as much water as in the developing world; CO2 production, a proxy of energy use, can also be 50 times higher," noted Sir John.

"We cannot conceive of a world that is going to carry on being as unequal as it is, or even become more unequal."

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