The Interrelated Problems of Environment, Population and Development

High-Level Expert Group Meeting

2-3 December 1985

Tokyo, Japan

Chaired by Takeo Fukuda



1. The group reviewed briefly the essential facts of the present situation regarding world population, environment and development. World population now stands at around 4.9 billion and will rise to about 6.1 billion by the year 2000. Of this population, around 80 percent will be in the developing countries as will twenty of the twenty-five cities with over 10 million inhabitants.

2. It would be a grave error to think that because the rate of increase in population growth rates has peaked, the problems is solved. World population in aggregate continues to increase by 80 million per year and this annual addition will rise to 90 million in the year 2000.

3. On current projections, world population may stabilize around the year 2100 at a global level of 10.2 billion. Effective action could advance this date by twenty years, stabilizing at 2.2 billion less than the current projection. However, if world population stabilizes twenty years later, then it would be greater by 2.8 billion. Effective action can therefore influence the level at which global population stabilizes by around 5 billion people.

4. At present, family planning programs are being implemented with varying degrees of effectiveness in eighty-seven developing countries. Twenty-seven developing countries are not yet implementing such programs, around half of these in Africa where high rates of population growth continue. International support is vital, but resources are at present inadequate and indeed, some international programs are under attack.


5. Very substantial changes are taking place in the global environment, such as desertification, rapid destruction of tropical forests, air and water pollution, the growth of urban slums, the destruction of forests in some developed countries, together with problems of global impact in regard to the atmosphere and oceans.

6. Although action at the national level is essential, these problems cannot be dealt with through national action alone. Effective international cooperation is a prerequisite for human survival.

7. Current patterns of exploitation, for example of tropical forests and of fragile ecological regions, are not only damaging but inefficient. The wider repercussions of such damage may be irreversible, for example the destruction of forest vegetation essential to water and soil conservation and to the fragile balance of ecological systems. Prudent management would allow utilization, development and conservation.


8. The vital linkages between population, environment and development have been tragically demonstrated in contributing to the disaster in Africa. The effects of a rapidly increasing population on a fragile environment, coupled with adverse climatic conditions and human conflict, have combined to destroy development prospects, leading to social collapse and migration. This disaster, long anticipated, might have been mitigated by early national and international action. But the surge of international concern and support came late.

9. To avoid a repetition of such a disaster on a greater scale, far-sighted policies, sustained efforts and commitment to longer-term development are needed.

10. Effective population and development policies carefully combined can lead to a good balance between economic and population growth. This, together with sound environmental policies, can make possible sustained human progress, while preserving the environment.

11. No sustained progress is possible without effective population and environmental policies. There is evidently an urgent need for increased international efforts to tackle the truly global problems of world population and the world environment.

12. International cooperation must be increased, but it is, in fact, increasingly strained and in some cases under attack. Even in cases of obvious urgency and common interest, activities are being cut back as a result of reductions in international financial support. In this connection, the group pointed to the enormous waste of resources on armaments in developed and developing countries - resources vitally needed to start substantial new efforts to face environmental and development problems.

13. It is a grave mistake to consider these problems only as long-term problems. They are urgent now. Although, under the pressures of immediate economic difficulties they have been pushed aside at the highest levels of policy for a number of years, substantial and urgent international action is now required. In this respect, the InterAction Council can play an important role in pressing for specific action and promoting a new international coalition in its support.


The efforts of the Council should be based on the following premises:

  • In the interest of present and future generations, it is essential that population, environment and development issues again become a central focus of international concern and action. Despite the urgency of current problems, these longer-term problems cannot be put aside.
  • The developed and developing countries have an inseparable common interest in stabilizing world population at the lowest feasible level, in preserving and rehabilitating the world environment and in promoting equitable development so as to preserve peace.
  • Population, environmental and development problems essentially require long-term commitment and effort to increase understanding, to motivate and organize participation and to achieve results.
  • Attitudes to population are linked to national culture, philosophy, religion and policies in each country. It is the right of every country to formulate its own population policies, based on respect for human life and concern for humanity. Also, in view of the seriousness and the persistence of present problems, each country should endeavour to reconcile religious and cultural considerations with actual needs, and should enhance population policy as its priority.
  • Environment, population and development issues must be dealt with at the local, national, regional and global levels in appropriate ways. Nation states - whether in the Sahel, in Europe or elsewhere - cannot handle such problems without cooperation. Nor can they separately address truly global environmental problems.
  • The essence of human survival is the prudent use of natural resources and the environment, together with their conservation. Over-exploitation, besides leading to environmental degradation, is also economically inefficient.
  • The desire to preserve the environment in many developing countries is not matched by the capacity to do so under the pressure for survival. International encouragement, support and resources are therefore essential but they must respect local knowledge and attitudes.
  • International assistance - both bilateral and multilateral -has played an important role which must be substantially increased. There is also a vital continuing role for non-governmental organizations, private corporations, universities and other organizations.


Developing Countries

  • Developing countries should place increased emphasis on development at the local, rural level. A particular target should be the basic social unit of the family and the role of women in particular.
  • Policies should specifically seek to make rural life more attractive by providing opportunities for employment, for personal development and recreation. Efforts must be made to attract urban dwellers back to rural areas and to remove the bias in favour of urban communities which is reflected in food pricing policies, human settlement and investment strategies.
  • Policies should increase the emphasis on education so as to change entrenched attitudes towards fertility, employment and the role of women, for example. In this respect, universities in developing countries have a special contribution to make. Primary education, particularly for girls, is of especial importance as is the eradication of adult illiteracy, especially among women.
  • Substantially increased efforts are also required for programs to improve health - particularly for primary health care, family planning, immunization of children and the control of diarrhoeal and tropical diseases. National efforts in this direction require strong international support.
  • Governments should establish guidelines and criteria to ensure proper consideration of population and environmental aspects in the design and implementation of development projects. Conservation groups linked to education, female literacy and family planning could be organized at the local level to promote participation and the acceptance of new ideas.
  • Governments should make more use in a systematic manner of the potential of non-governmental, private sector and voluntary organizations.
  • There is a need for increased cooperation between developing countries, both to face the reality of problems which cross national boundaries and to improve policy through the exchange of experience about successes and failures.

Developed Countries

  • Flows of international assistance have fallen far short of the needs of the developing countries, especially those of least developed countries. Developed countries must ultimately face the need to provide increased longer-term assistance essential to support the preservation and rehabilitation of the environment in developing countries, to help those who wish to moderate the growth of population, and to accelerate development to meet the needs of a growing world population.
  • Assistance must be tailored to meet the real needs and conditions of the developing countries. Developed countries should therefore review the effects of food aid on incentives to produce food in developing countries, and also the effects of their economic and trade policies, particularly for agricultural products, on patterns of agricultural production.
  • Developed, creditor countries should agree to measures to reduce the debt burden on developing countries so as to release resources for sound development.
  • The developed countries should recognize the important role of multilateral assistance, complimentary to bilateral assistance. They should therefore support those multilateral development institutions which make real contributions to solving the problems of population, environment and development.
  • A specific proposal was made that cooperation among European countries should be strengthened to prevent and reverse present trends in air, water and soil pollution, the destruction of national eco-systems, deforestation and soil erosion, etc.

Developed and Developing Countries

  • At every level from local to global, research activities should be stimulated to increase knowledge of the subtle and complex relations of population, environment and development. Improved data is required as a basis for successful policy. The potential of computer and communications technologies should be used to achieve a broader understanding of world trends and of the availability and use of natural resources.
  • Research efforts should particularly be increased in the fields of food, energy and health, particularly on biological methods to increase food production and on ecologically sound agricultural and industrial technologies. Cooperative research programs can play an important role, including those of international research institutions in Third World countries. Research should seek effective combinations of traditional and modern technologies.
  • Sustained international efforts are required to strengthen science and technology capacities in developing countries, together with research, training and management potentials. In this connection, the private sector should be mobilized to help increase locally available technological and scientific manpower.
  • An international organization or program should be established to focus on the problem of environmental refugees. It should generate awareness, analyze the problem and promote action.
  • A consultative group for the integrated application of traditional and frontier technologies should be set up, working through an international network of public and private institutions. It should organize an international corps of professionals to assist on specific projects in rural areas.


The Council should make an appeal at its Hakone meeting to attract renewed international attention and effort to world problems of population, environment and development. Some particular points were suggested for inclusion in the appeal:

  • It should stress that this generation is responsible to future generations. It must face the threat posed to humanity by current trends in world population, and prepare to meet the demands of a growing world population without environmental disaster. The Council should aim, in its appeal, to create a new international coalition and constituency in North and South to promote action on these issues.
  • It should call for stabilization of world population at the earliest possible date.
  • It should call for urgent, vigorous, new efforts at the national level supported by increased multilateral and bilateral cooperation, recognizing the reality of common interest and interdependence. These efforts should fully involve the private sector, non-governmental organizations, universities and the intellectual community.
  • It should call on religious and spiritual leaders, parliamentarians and leaders from other walks of life to lend their authority to efforts to face world problems of population, environment and development, transcending religious difficulties in the interests of humanity.
  • The Council should appeal for substantial, far-sighted cooperation between East and West in a common endeavour to address the problems of population, environment and development.
  • It should also call for serious study of the linkages between population, environment and development so as to create a sound basis for new policies and action.


  • The Council should sponsor an international effort to prepare a specific strategy for action in regard to population, environment and development in Africa, particularly in the Sahel region.
  • This strategy should aim to achieve self-sufficiency in food over a fifteen year period, based on sustainable land use.
  • It should make a compelling case for long-term development assistance in a carefully considered manner, and stress the urgent need for financial resources beyond the food aid generated to meet the current crisis.
  • It should provide for the strengthening of education, health and human resources and of scientific and technological institutions in the region.