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The UK’s decision to cut the amount it spends on aid for family planning overseas is “very disappointing”, a leading sustainability economist has claimed.
Sir Partha Dasgupta in February published a landmark review into the “economics of biodiversity” – how the world can find value in nature instead of profiting from its destruction.
The Dasgupta Review made several references to population growth and family planning.
It said that “growing human populations have significant implications for our demands on nature” and that there had been “significant underinvestment” in family planning programmes.
In April, the UK government cut its funding to the UN global family programme by 85 per cent.
The programme supplies contraceptives and maternal healthcare to millions of women in some of the world’s poorest countries.
“I was very disappointed with the Foreign Office because they drastically ripped apart all expenditure on family planning in the aid budget – and that was exactly in opposition to my review,” the Indian-British economist told The Independent.
“My review paid a good deal of attention to the fact that population growth, in Africa for example, is huge – and it’s going to hurt them because they need to be able to lift themselves out of poverty and the pressure on their ecosystems.”
The idea that population growth, particularly in developing countries, is a major obstacle to tackling the climate and biodiversity crises is highly controversial.
Critics of the idea note that the rate of global population growth is actually slowing down – and that most environmental damage is caused by a small minority made up of the world’s wealthiest people.
A report from Oxfam published in 2020 found that the richest 10 per cent of people accounted for more than half of global CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2015. In this time, the richest 1 per cent of people caused more than twice the emissions of the poorest half of humanity.
Sir David Attenborough, who wrote the foreword to the Dasgupta Review, has in the past faced criticism for his comments on “overpopulation”.
Sir Partha, who is an emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, added that he believed the government’s response to his review had been “positive” but “slow”.
“I think there is no question that the Treasury will be making moves in the direction of taking nature more seriously in investment decisions, that I’m quite confident of,” he said.
“They will be looking also at things like moving away from GDP as a measure and natural capital, I think that’s going to happen. It will happen slowly maybe, but it will happen.”
A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spokesperson said: “The UK is a global leader on both gender equality and tackling climate change.
“It is clear that supporting women, including through family planning and girls’ education, helps communities to adapt and be more resilient to climate change.
“That’s why we are making sure our international climate finance is responsive to gender-based issues and we are using our Cop26 presidency to call on others to do the same.”
The Independent spoke to Sir Partha as he was awarded the Kew International Medal 2021 in early September.