Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Edited by Tom Butler
Population Media Center & Population Institute
Goff Books, 2015
Every problem facing humanity, from poverty to violent conflict over resources, is exacerbated by a ballooning human population – and so is every problem facing nature, including ecosystem loss, species extinctions, and climate chaos. But why is the demographic explosion and its effects ignored by policymakers and the media? Why do important people within the global environmental movement itself avoid the great challenges of the population issue?
Isn’t it time to start talking about the equation that matters most to the future of people and the planet? Overpopulation + Overdevelopment = Overshoot.
In a book as large and dramatic as the topic it covers, Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) will ignite that conversation around the world.
In an exhibit-format treatment with provocative photos from across the globe, OVER moves beyond insider debates and tired old arguments (yes, population numbers AND consumption both matter). Framed by essays from population experts Eileen Crist and William Ryerson, as well as a forward by human rights activist Musimbi Kanyoro, the heart of OVER is a series of photo essays illuminating the depth of the damage that human numbers and behavior have caused to the Earth—and which threatens humanity’s future.
From a human rights perspective, there is little doubt that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a huge improvement on their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, there is one critical area where it seems lessons from the MDG era have remained frustratingly unlearned: accountability.
Amid the fanfare of the SDGs’ adoption in September 2015, it was easy to focus on the goals and targets themselves, and overlook the three pages hidden deeper into the ‘2030 Agenda’ which are intended to outline a framework for ‘follow-up and review’. Despite some important references to state-citizen accountability, participation, and respecting human rights, the vision is astonishingly vague and timid. The document offers no clear picture on how SDG progress will be monitored and reviewed or what the lines and channels of accountability will be, and includes only very tentative and under-ambitious proposals and guidelines.
This is not an accidental omission. Throughout the negotiation process, it was clear that there was very little political will for underpinning the new agenda with accountability. From the very start, many government representatives displayed a conveniently narrow understanding of accountability, claiming that it could not possibly be relevant because the goals would not be legally binding. These reservations led the ‘monitoring and accountability’ chapter to be renamed ‘follow-up and review’. Further into the negotiations, some states tried to end the use of the ‘A word’ entirely, and warned ominously that ‘finger-pointing’ and ‘naming and shaming’ would be counterproductive.
As the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) has argued since we co-published Who Will be Accountable? in 2013, underpinning the new agenda with a web of accountability mechanisms is essential to ensure the new commitments are credible and honored in practice. Unfortunately, despite constructive proposals and strenuous advocacy from civil society, these ideas remained politically unpalatable. Some states (including many EU countries, Mexico and Peru) did champion more robust accountability arrangements, but the consensus was against them and no one state or negotiating bloc with real leverage power was willing to make the issue a priority or red line. As a result, in the haggling over final language, the mere suggestion that countries may conduct a review of progress at least every four years was removed. It is indeed a sorry sign that this was considered too ambitious.
Some countries (in particular those with a history of receiving aid accompanied by a laundry list of onerous conditionalities) see any monitoring that takes place beyond the national level as infringing their sovereignty and policy space and exposing them to scolding from rich countries and the UN. This has made the negotiations over the global level of SDG ‘follow-up and review’ (which is envisaged to have national, regional and international components) all the more difficult.
There is already a designated forum for the purpose of reviewing SDG progress and challenges: the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), which was established at the Rio conference in 2012 and has been a somewhat aimless annual gathering at the UN since 2013. This year, it will assume its real purpose; but it is still unclear what form the reviews and discussions might take, and whether they might be able to deliver anything approaching accountability. There will be thematic reviews on goal areas and cross-cutting issues such as inequality and health; as well as country reviews where specific countries will step forward to discuss their progress and challenges. However, their efficacy and meaningfulness will likely be severely constrained not only by their voluntary nature, but also by the fact that the HLPF only meets for eight days each year and is hugely under-staffed and under-resourced.
Although the rhetoric from decision-makers is strongly welcoming of civil society participation in the HLPF reviews, it remains to be seen what this might mean in practice. It now seems unlikely, for example, that civil society will be given an official channel to submit ‘shadow reports’ which might complement or call into question states’ official presentations. Without consideration of such independent accounts, the legitimacy of these reviews will be highly questionable, and may not rise above the level of the MDGs’ toothless ‘Annual Ministerial Reviews’, which amounted to little more than a best practices showcase. The process to develop global indicators has also delivered warning signs that measurement of progress at the global level may well distort and undercut the priorities enshrined in the SDGs, especially the more contentious ones around resources, inequality and governance.
Many were counting on the UN Secretary-General to deliver a shot of ambition with some innovative new proposals on how the HLPF reviews might operate. However, on first analysis his recently published recommendations remain somewhat lackluster. For now, it is wise for civil society to dedicate energy to developing innovative and ambitious accountability mechanisms (and indicators) at the national level. Here too, some governments will inevitably drag their feet, but pressure from advocates and activists could make a real difference. Health is a thematic area (and of course a stand-alone SDG) where there are perhaps the most promising precedents to build on. This is true both at the global level—see for example the Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, discussed by Paul Hunt—and at national/local levels, where social accountability initiatives focused on health services have proliferated in recent years led by communities, civil society and occasionally government actors.
It will also be imperative to pay close attention to the accountability gaps above and beyond the state where the deficits are particularly acute. For example, the role and impact of the private sector will require special vigilance especially given the uncritical fervor many governments are adopting for Public-Private Partnerships in development. Meanwhile, in our globalized world the transnational ‘spillover’ impacts of one country’s policies (for example, tax, trade, environmental or investment) on another’s development can be profound, and some measure of awareness and accountability is desperately needed in this arena.
The years 2015-2030 offer an unmissable opportunity to address the accountability gaps that have plagued development policy and practice for decades. For civil society and social movements, there is a lot of hard work to be done to ensure the potential of the SDGs as a vehicle of human rights realization and accountability is not squandered.
Kate Donald is Director, Human Rights in Development, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), New York
From a human development perspective, work, rather than jobs or employment is the relevant concept. A job is a narrow concept with a set of pre-determined time-bound assigned tasks or activities, in an input-output framework with labour as input and a commodity or service as output. Yet, jobs do not encompass creative work (e.g. the work of a writer or a painter), which go beyond defined tasks; they do not account for unpaid care work; they do not focus on voluntary work. Work thus is a broader concept, which encompasses jobs, but goes beyond by including the dimensions mentioned above, all of which are left out of the job framework, but are critical for human development.
Work is the means for unleashing human potential, creativity, innovation and spirits. It is essential to make human lives productive, worthwhile and meaningful. It enables people to earn a living, gives them a means to participate in society, provides them with security and gives them a sense of dignity. Work is thus inherently and intrinsically linked to human development.
But it is important to recognize that there is no automatic link between work and human development. Nor does every type of work enhance human development. Exploitative work, particularly exploitation of women and children, robs people of their fair share, their rights and their dignity. Likewise, work that is hazardous - work without safety measures, labour rights, or social protection - is not conducive to human development.
More importantly, the linkages between work and human development must be seen in the context that over time the notion of what constitutes work has changed, areas of work have shifted and the modus operandi of work has evolved. What used to mean work three decades ago is no longer valid, and work is defined differently now. Now, some of these changes may contribute positively to various dimensions of human development, but some aspects of these new phenomena may have negative impacts for human development.
In the context of all these changes, time has come to relook at the issue of work in its various dimensions and dynamics through a human development lens. Thus the 2015 Human Development Report (2015 HDR) will be on Rethinking Work for Human Development.
To be launched in December 2015, the Report will zoom in on the fundamental question – how work can be rethought for human development –– to enrich human development. Given this broader perspective, the focus of 2015 HDR will be based on five building blocks:
Rethinking the linkages between work and human development identifying the positive intrinsic relationship between work and human development - Work provides livelihoods, income, a means for participation and connectedness, social cohesion, and human dignity - but also those situations where linkages are broken or eroded - child labour, human trafficking, etc.
Revisiting the new world of work, where the notions of work, areas of work and modus operandi of work have changed and the implications for human development. ICT and mobile devices are revolutionizing work. People can work anywhere. There is an e-economy. We ask the question – are these changes enhancing human development? And how may they best be harnessed to promote equitable opportunities?
Recognizing the worth of care work and its impact on human development. For instance care for those who cannot care for themselves is important in itself for human survival but there are other connections to human development: from an intergenerational perspective, care work is crucial for the cognitive development of children.
Refocusing on the notion of sustainable work to be incorporated into the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This will include, among other issues, the environmental value of green and low carbon emission jobs and so on. And also the quality of work that can be sustained over long periods.
Recommending policy options for reorienting, reinventing and reorganizing work so that it enriches human development
Several targeted issues will be taken up throughout the report– youth employment, gender aspects of work, agriculture and rural development, the informal sector, and work during crisis and in post-crisis situations. In realizing the post2015 international agenda it will be critical to enable youth, who make up 50 per cent of the global population, and women, holding up half the sky, to find work opportunities that enable them to participate constructively, creatively and equitably in society.
The nexus approach to the sustainable management of water, soil, and waste integrates environmental management and governance across sectors and scales. This approach requires a holistic understanding of the interlinkage of all related environmental processes, while also taking into consideration global change and socioeconomic aspects.
Exploring these interlinkages and advancing a nexus-oriented management approach requires integrated modeling tools. However, no single modeling tool is available or conceivable that can cover all processes, interactions and drivers related to the management of water, soil and waste resources.
To help overcome this challenge, the UNU Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and of Resources (UNU-FLORES) has developed an interactive Nexus Tools Platform (NTP) for comparison of existing modelling tools related to the water-soil-waste nexus. Currently, the NTP database consists of 60 models from around the world. The platform provides detailed model information and advanced filtering based on real-time visualizations, and will continuously grow with the input and feedback from model developers and model users.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be the guiding framework for international development until 2030 and are intended to provide a reference for setting national policy priorities.
This unique, searchable database provides a snapshot of what those national priorities are. Users can compare existing national targets with the ambition of the SDGs. We intend this to be a living document, supplemented and kept up to date by crowdsourcing, and we encourage others to send us new information on national goals to update the tracker.
Millennium Institute is developing models that will enable policy makers and planning officials at all levels of governance to understand the interconnectedness of policies designed to achieve the SDGs and test their likely impacts before adopting them. For more information about the model and to preview the demo version contact email@example.com.
"C-ROADS is an award-winning computer simulation that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of policy scenarios to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It allows for the rapid summation of national greenhouse gas reduction pledges in order to show the long-term impact on our climate." For more information, click
The scale of the global sustainable development challenge is unprecedented. The fight against extreme poverty has made great progress under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but more than 1 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty. Inequality and social exclusion are widening within most countries. With the world at 7 billion people and current annual GDP of US$70 trillion, human impacts on the environment have already reached dangerous levels. As the world population is estimated to rise to 9 billion by 2050
and global GDP to more than US$200 trillion, the world urgently needs a framework for sustainable development that addresses the challenges of ending poverty, increasing social inclusion, and sustaining the planet.
Under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, and in line with the recently launched High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) was announced on August 9, 2012 and will provide global, open and inclusive support to sustainable-development problem solving at local, national, and global scales. The SDSN will work together with United Nations agencies, other international organizations, and the multilateral funding institutions including the World Bank and regional development banks, to mobilize scientific and technical expertise to scale up the magnitude and quality of local, national and global problem solving, helping to identify solutions and highlighting best practices in the design of long-term development pathways.
"A new report issued today by a top-level United Nations knowledge network under the auspices of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon lays out an action agenda to support global efforts to achieve sustainable development during the period 2015-2030.
"The post-2015 process is a chance for the global community to work towards a new era in sustainable development," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "The latest report from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the result of a collaboration between top scientists, technologists, businesses, and development specialists, is a critical input to the work we are doing to shape an ambitious and achievable post-2015 agenda." To download the report, click here.