IUCN recognizes the importance of attending to population to preserve biodiversity

By Pernilla Hansson | 16 March 2021
The Overpopulation Project

A herd of wild elephants consuming trash in eastern Sri Lanka, photographed in 2020. (Credit: Tharmapalan Tilaxan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

After decades of silence, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has passed a motion reaffirming the importance of addressing population matters to achieving conservation success. This continues a welcome recent trend among conservation scientists to speak up about the potential benefits of reining in population growth.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an umbrella group bringing together both government and civil organisations dedicated to the conservation of global biodiversity, with 1400 member organisations active in over 160 countries. The IUCN is a leading clearinghouse on the conservation status of the world’s species, regularly updating its Red List of Threatened Species. Every four years it hosts the IUCN World Conservation Congress, to set the international agenda for future conservation efforts. The latest World Congress was planned for June 2020, in Marseille, but was postponed to September of this year due to the pandemic.

Growing human populations invariably displace other species. Yet the last time population issues were explicitly on the IUCN agenda was in 1990, 30 years ago, when the global population was two and a half billion smaller than it is today. A motion proposed by the Margaret Pyke Trust and other IUCN member groups sought to rectify this neglect. Titled “Importance for the conservation of nature of removing barriers to rights-based voluntary family planning,” it asked the IUCN and its member groups to reaffirm the importance of limiting human numbers to preserve nature. As its supporters note in an explanatory memorandum, “Family planning is not a panacea for all environmental challenges, but there are many areas where population growth resulting from barriers to family planning is a major direct environmental issue.”

TOP commends the Margaret Pyke Trust and the motion’s many co-sponsors—including the Cheetah Conservation Fund (Namibia), the International Crane Foundation (United States) and the Wildlife Trust of India—for their courage in bringing essential population issues back onto the wildlife conservation agenda where they belong. Despite the Congress being postponed to later this year, the motion was voted on by the member organisations. It passed, becoming effective immediately. The passing of this motion will hopefully mark a turn towards conservationists integrating family planning into their efforts to protect wildlife, and towards more searching and honest discussions about population and conservation.

(Credit: Dreamstime.com)

Here is the full text of the motion:

Motion 87 – Importance for the conservation of nature of removing barriers to rights-based voluntary family planning

NOTING that the United Nations estimated global human population at 7.7 billion in 2019 and forecasts that the 2050 population will be between 8.9 billion (low variant projection) and 10.6 billion (high variant projection);

MINDFUL that the 2050 medium variant projection (9.7 billion) is commonly cited, but is only one possibility;

CONCERNED that physical, educational, social, cultural and other barriers to rights-based voluntary family planning prevent access to and use of contraception;

NOTING that barriers exist in all countries and are often greatest in rural areas, where conservation takes place;

NOTING that 232 million women in low- and middle-income countries are not using modern contraception despite wanting to delay or avoid pregnancy and that global estimates of unintended pregnancy suggest hundreds of millions of women would have fewer children and/or begin motherhood later if they faced no barriers to contraception;

AWARE that future population size is greatly influenced by reproductive healthcare provision provided now, and that removing barriers to rights-based voluntary family planning now would have significant impacts on long-term population size and therefore reduce some pressures on the environment;

AWARE that unintended pregnancy can restrict ability to engage in natural-resource management and conservation action as well as limiting education and income-generating potential;

RECALLING the 1994 agreement at the International Conference on Population and Development on links between population, sustainable development and the need for universal access to reproductive health services, based on the right to decide for one’s self whether and when to have children;

NOTING target 3.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies, and programmes”; and

AWARE that the impacts of human population growth on biodiversity are stated in National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by 64 of the 69 countries with the greatest barriers to family planning;

The IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020, at its session in Marseille, France:

  1. REQUESTS that an inter-Commission Task Force be formed by the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP), the Species Survival Commission (SSC), and other interested Commissions, supported by the Margaret Pyke Trust, to assist IUCN to develop guidance on how and why removing barriers to rights-based voluntary family planning can strengthen conservation outcomes in addition to promoting the health, well-being and empowerment of women and girls;
  2. CALLS ON State Members to consider including the importance of rights-based voluntary family planning in their NBSAPs and other national planning documents that draw attention to the impact of human population growth on ecosystems and ecosystem services;
  3. URGES Members to consider:
    • internal training and awareness programmes on how improved reproductive health benefits women’s and girls’ health and empowerment, reduces pressures on ecosystems and ecosystem services, and enhances sustainable development, and how such issues can be included in project planning; and
    • partnerships with health organisations to pilot or plan a population, health and environment (PHE) programme (a conservation model integrating sustainable and alternative conservation livelihood actions with reproductive health improvements, benefiting human and ecosystem health), this being a critical project model in areas where removing barriers to rights-based voluntary family planning can improve conservation outcomes; and
  4. REQUESTS Members, donors, academics and others to encourage the implementation of PHE programmes and to ensure integrated funding streams and multi-sector collaboration.

Reprinted with permission from Frank Götmark – Project leader of The Overpopulation Project (TORP); Professor, Animal ecology and Conservation Biology, University of Gothenburg.

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