Eight billion reasons to fight harder for our future

A population milestone offers a chance for reflection

UNDP Peru/Bruno Camara Rojo

The world’s eight billionth human will be born on 15 November. This will not only mark a joyful occasion for their family; it will also be a symbol of the remarkable advancements in health that have dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates.

Gradual increases in human lifespan have brought us to this milestone, yet population growth has fallen dramatically in recent decades. It’s at its slowest rate since 1950. This is good news for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Rapid population growth makes it harder to combat hunger and malnutrition and to provide decent healthcare and quality education.

The birth of human #8,000,000,000 is a time for us to consider what kind of world they — and those who follow — will be born into.

There are now 8 billion reasons to:

Fight harder for the SDGs

Reaching the SDGs is the best birthday gift the global community can give any generation of babies.

The SDGs are our instruction manual for a just, green and equitable future for every human, and for the other species that call Earth home. The 17 goals can guide us as we radically redefine what our societies should value, and how to steward our planet.

The Blue Marble — View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. Photo: Apollo 17

Protect and promote the rights of women and girls

Achieving the SDGs relating to health, education and gender equality will slow population growth.

They will also make for a much fairer world, where women lead in equal numbers with men in politics, law, business and climate action.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded already shockingly high rates of gender-based violence, child marriage, and the inequal amounts of unpaid work shouldered by women. They have been disproportionately affected by job losses and food insecurity.

Ensuring women have equal opportunities — and pay — at work, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), will ensure that they and their communities can thrive in uncertain times.

Musya Qeburia — “…But now you have us youth going everywhere and the future feels unlimited and much bigger than Georgia or Russia. That is creating a different, bigger future and that scares the old generation.” Photo: UNDP Eurasia/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin

Restore natural biodiversity and support its guardians

It requires a vast, intricate, and biodiverse network to support human and other animal life on earth. We are unravelling that security net with unchecked, wasteful consumerism, and unsustainable and unjust food systems that do little to advance food security.

Half the world’s land is now used for agriculture. Of that, livestock takes up 80 percent, but produce fewer than 20 percent of the world’s calories.

Agricultural subsidies, which cost around US$700 billion every year, perpetuate inequality and waste, and inflict substantial damage on the land and on our health.

Indigenous leaders are at the loudest voices urging us to listen to what the planet has been increasing telling us, and to change the way we manage precious land and water resources before it’s too late.

Photo: UNDP Guatemala/Caroline Trutmann

Address poverty and inequality

COVID-19 made a dent in the remarkable strides have been made in addressing poverty in recent decades. And inequality is reaching dangerous levels, both between rich and poor countries and between the rich and the poor in almost every society.

UNDP estimates that even before the pandemic 1.2 billion people lived in acute, multidimensional poverty.

Rampant inequality is almost always a harbinger of political turmoil. No sustainable future can be built without decent living standards for everybody.

Photos: UNDP/Grey Díaz (first) and UNDP Uganda/Hadijah Nabbale (second)

Do more with less

There’s enough resources for all 8 billion of us, provided we don’t squander them.

While the majority of the changes we need are systemic, individual actions can be important, particularly in regard to shopping and food consumption.

About 40 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture and deforestation, mostly from cattle farming.

A recent IPCC report shows that even small changes in meat consumption can make a difference, lowering greenhouse gases and halting soil degradation and deforestation.

Single use plastics are the scourge of modern life — born out of fossil fuels, resulting in waste and damage at every stage of their lives and polluting every part of the planet, including our bloodstreams.

And ‘ultra fast’ fashion is the clothing industry’s equivalent of single use plastic, creating garments that are worn once, if at all, and mostly destined to be thrown ‘away’ in ever-growing landfills.

These vicious cycles must be confronted and broken, by eliminating wasteful packaging, prioritizing ‘slow fashion’, locally-made, and recycled clothing that doesn’t exploit those who made it.

Pursue climate justice

This year’s northern hemisphere summer that brought droughts, record high temperatures and raging forest fires gave the developed world a taste of what other countries have known for years — climate change is not a future event — it’s happening now, and nowhere will be untouched.

Climate justice is an essential part of our path to reaching the SDGs. Rich countries have created the problems. Poor countries, who have contributed little to global heating, pay a disproportionate price.

To pay for a carbon neutral future, we must re-dedicate ourselves to supporting the countries and people who are on the front lines of climate change.

This includes repurposing expensive and unfair fossil fuel and agricultural subsidies. Protecting the rights of Indigenous leaders as they occupy the front lines of the climate fight and ensuring that migrants and refugees are treated with dignity as they build new lives.

Photo: UNDP Mali/Imen Meliane

Re-think leadership

UNDP’s latest Human Development Report finds that social cohesion is fraying as the world reels from cascading crises, and this insecurity has driven many into the arms of xenophobia, nationalism, hate speech and radicalization.

Data shows trust in political leaders is at historic lows, in many cases being demonstrated by the growing rise in authoritarianism.

Young people are angry at the lack of action of the older generation on climate action. And Women are locked out of leadership in almost every aspect of society.

We need to rethink how 8 billion people’s needs can be met with governance that more aptly represents every aspect of society.

Be kinder to each other

In 1990 the NASA spacecraft, Voyager 1, turned its cameras back on Earth and captured one of the most iconic photos of our home.

We ‘zoomed out’ to 6 billion kilometres from the Sun at the instigation of physicist, Carl Sagan, to see Earth in all its fragile and lonely beauty.

Professor Sagan urged that we use this new perspective to work harder to protect our home, and to be kinder to those who live here.

The arrival of the eighth billion human offers another opportunity to reconsider what we value.

The ‘Pale Blue Dot’ — From Voyager’s great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Photo: Voyager

“It is a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for our planet and a moment to reflect on where we still fall short of our commitments to one another.” - UN Secretary-General António Guterres

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