UK parliament committee backs family planning and tackling consumption to protect biodiversity

30 June 2021

An influential committee in the UK Parliament has called on the Government to do more to address population and overconsumption as drivers of biodiversity loss. Its comments, in a highly critical report on the UK Government’s action so far, reflect and refer directly to evidence submitted by Population Matters to its enquiry.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report, Biodiversity in the UK: bloom or bust? is published today. It also criticises the Government for its recent cuts to family planning aid, a key campaign for Population Matters.

POPULATION

Biodiversity, the variation of life on Earth, is a major factor in nature’s resilience. In a biodiverse ecosystem, if the environment changes and some organisms can no longer thrive, others can take their place and fulfil essential functions. However, the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems is under increasing threat from the demands placed upon it by human population growth, and in its wide-ranging report, the EAC explicitly highlighted our evidence and wrote:

"[…] humanity’s demands on the biosphere are also related to human population numbers. The global population has trebled in size from approximately 2.5 billion in 1950 to around 7.7 billion in 2019 […]. This has had a dramatic effect on the biosphere."

The EAC report leans heavily on the findings of The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, a report commissioned by the UK Treasury from leading economist and Population Matters Patron, Sir Partha Dasgupta. It calls for “transformative change’’ in our consumption patterns and directly addresses the issue of growing human populations having significant implications for our demands on biodiversity.

It is extremely disappointing that the Government’s response to the Dasgupta Review failed to mention population growth at all. PM will therefore be lobbying the Government not to be so complacent in its response to the EAC’s report on this issue.

FAMILY PLANNING

In this regard, it is great that the EAC’s report explicitly highlights our view, based on overwhelming evidence, that empowering women and girls to make choices about their bodies and their lives through the provision of voluntary, human rights-based modern family planning enhances people’s lives and benefits our planet.

We are also delighted that the report endorses our criticism of the under-investment in the UK’s Overseas Development Assistance for family planning, a stance also taken by the Dasgupta Review.  

In April 2021, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) announced that the UK Government intended to cut its funding for family planning through the Fund by 85%. It is therefore gratifying that the EAC report endorses our view that the funding cut should be reversed:

"Recommendation: In response to this report, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should set out the extent to which the announced cuts to the UK’s aid budget will affect overseas development assistance for family planning and reproductive healthcare. We recommend that ODA for family planning and reproductive healthcare be protected: at the very least the percentage allocated to both these areas should be equal or higher than 2019 levels.’"

CONSUMPTION

PM also welcomes the EAC’s emphasis on the need for the UK Government to tackle consumption as a driver of biodiversity loss, at home and abroad.

The report highlights two of our specific points: that the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan makes reference to ‘’leaving a lighter footprint’’, but does not identify any action to address the level of the UK’s consumption [particularly abroad]; and states:

"The lack of regard for consumption has led WWF and the campaign charity Population Matters to find that the Government has sought to address the UK’s environmental impact predominately through process, efficiency and technological changes. They argue this will never address the “transformative” action IPBES, Professor Dasgupta and almost every other authoritative study into the global environment is calling for."

We therefore welcome the Committee’s backing of our call for action to address the overseas environmental impact of UK consumption.

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