The Population and Sustainable Development Alliance welcomes the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, particularly the importance it places on ensuring universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This is a critical priority in its own right, and one that is also essential in order to address population dynamics in ways that respect and protect human rights. Disappointingly however, the report overlooks additional necessary ways to address the challenges and harness the opportunities associated with population dynamics. Moving forward, both SRHR and other aspects of population dynamics must be a focus of the post-2015 process, including by the Open Working Group and as part of Sustainable Development Goals.
Health, including SRHR
Rightly, the panel’s preliminary universal agenda set out in the report builds on the Millennium Development Goals (MSGs), emphasizing that the unfinished business of the MDGs must be completed – including the realization of universal access to reproductive health. The report recognises the critical importance of health, including SRHR, to poverty eradication and sustainable development, as well as the role that poor health and lack of access to health services plays in driving inequalities. We commend the panel for the critical inclusion of the target ‘Ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and rights’ as part of Goal 4 to ‘Ensure healthy lives’ and emphasize that full realization of both sexual and reproductive health, and sexual and reproductive rights, requires universal access to comprehensive, rights-based sexual and reproductive health services. The report acknowledges that access to SRHR is critical for the empowerment of young people and achievement of gender equality, and also recognizes the role that quality education plays in advancing health, which data from all over the world shows leads to improved maternal and infant health, as well as a drop in fertility rates. In relation to gender equality, we congratulate the panel on inclusion of the goal to ‘Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality’ (Goal 2) as well as attempts to integrate gender equality across all goals, although how and whether gender equality is fully integrated across other goals is not clear and requires more focus moving forward.
While ‘population dynamics’ was one of the eleven thematic civil society consultations held to inform the work of the High-Level Panel, population dynamics do not command sufficient attention in the report. The term ‘population dynamics’ is entirely absent, although elements of demographic change are given some consideration, including population growth, ageing, young populations, urbanization and migration, albeit with a predominantly economic focus. A more holistic look at the their multiple and complex implications would have been beneficial and overall, the narrative of the report fails to grasp the full significance of population dynamics to the achievement of sustainable development, including the potential for population growth in the world’s poorest countries to undermine poverty alleviation and other pressing development goals.
The inclusion of the target on universal SRHR, including addressing unmet need for family planning, as well as the goals relating to gender equality and education, are welcome, critical priorities which will help women and couples achieve their desired family size, reduce population growth and address the relationships between population, health and the environment. Yet it is unfortunate that the report does not go further, and promote other necessary ways of addressing population dynamics in ways that respect and protect human rights. For example, the development goals, targets and indicators that form the basis of the next framework should be forward looking, which requires them to be based on projected changes in population size, location and age structures, which influence demand for and supply of key resources and services. Furthermore, systematic use of data on population trends should also be part of sectorial sustainable development planning, for example planning for food, water and energy security.
We welcome the report’s recognition that sustainable development cannot be achieved without addressing pressures on the natural environment, and of the need for a “rapid shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production.” But these messages are at odds with the report’s business as usual approach to economic growth. Eradication of poverty requires satisfying the needs of the world’s poorest to consume more, yet the report ignores the fact that doing so without further breech of planetary boundaries requires addressing unsustainable and unequal levels of consumption by the wealthiest groups and nations.
Looking to 2015
The HLP report is an important first step in the post-2015 development process and we look to the Open Working Group, and other parts of the process, to build on the strengths of the report, ensuring prioritisation of SRHR as well as other human-rights based ways of addressing population dynamics.
The Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA) is a network of civil society organisations that is working to raise awareness about the connections between population dynamics, reproductive health and rights, the environment and sustainable development, and ensure that these connections are addressed by the post-2015 agenda. The June 2013 meeting of the Open Working Group which will include a focus on ‘health and population dynamics’ offers a key opportunity to do so, for which PSDA shares the following recommendations.
PSDA recommendations for advancing sustainable development through a focus on population dynamics and SRHR:
- Prioritize universal access to reproductive health, including voluntary family planning: Address population dynamics in ways that respect and protect human rights and prioritize the unfinished business of MDG 5 and the full implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.
- Devise forward-looking goals: Goals, targets and indicators must be forward-looking, based on projected changes in population size, location and age structures which influence demand for and supply of key resources and services.
- Sectorial planning should utilize population data: Planning for water and sanitation facilities, food security, health and education services etc., and overall development strategies, must be informed by systematic use of population data and projections.
- Use population data to address inequalities: Monitoring and reporting mechanisms should use data and indicators disaggregated by gender, age, rural/urban location, educational background and economic quintile, helping development goals benefit all.
- Invest in the cross-cutting issues of health, education, women’s equality and human rights: These critical investments offer opportunities to improve human health and well-being and advance each of the three dimensions of sustainable development.
For further information contact:
Secretariat, Population and Sustainable Development Alliance
Research and Advocacy Manager, Population and Sustainability Network (PSN)
Secretariat, Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA)
Tel: +44 (0)20 3317 5497