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The population policy of the NSW Nature Conservation Council

July 16th, 2012 |

Mark O’Connor recently sent me the population policy of the NSW Nature Conservation Council, a non-profit, non-government organization representing more than 100 community environment groups across New South Wales, Australia. It is pasted below.

Mark notes that the document may be useful for other organizations seeking to evolve a population policy. He also notes that “its authors clearly understand that human population growth is destroying the habitat and survival of other species, and they intend to do something about it.  They want Australia’s population stabilized and in time reduced. As they sum it up: Increasing population threatens not only the ecosystems (and ecosystem services) on which all species rely, but also our own well-being and quality of life. Increasing population also counteracts strategies to reach a truly ecologically sustainable future.

You can, if you prefer, click here to review the document on Google Documents:


Submitted by the Executive

This policy replaces the 1986 Population and Resources policy. It also
supersedes general references to ‘population’ in other Nature Conservation
Council policies.


The objects of the NCC constitution are:

‘the conservation of nature, the protection of the environment and the
attainment of an ecologically sustainable society’

NCC is the ‘Voice for Nature’ in NSW, and speaks out to protect nature. Population
is one of the major issues impacting on our environment. Survival of the human
species on a long-term ecologically sustainable basis will not be possible unless
concepts of unlimited human population growth and consumption are discarded. We
live on a finite planet and humanity must accept these limits. Increasing population
threatens not only the ecosystems (and ecosystem services) on which all species
rely, but also our own well-being and quality of life. Increasing population also
counteracts strategies to reach a truly ecologically sustainable future.

There have been two estimates by scientists for an ecologically sustainable
population for Australia at consumption levels similar to those of today. The first was
10 million people by ecologist Prof. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University. The second
was 6-12 million by Prof. Tim Flannery of Macquarie University1. Both estimates are
substantially lower than Australia’s current population of 22.7 million (as of July,

Key aspects of population impact have been expressed in the formula I = PAT, or
Impact = Population X Affluence X Technology. This can be simplified to population
X per capita consumption. The world and Australia’s impact due to population is thus
determined by both our population but also our consumption and the technology we
use. Another key aspect of population growth is the world’s carrying capacity or
ecological footprint. Currently humanity’s numbers and impact would require 1.5
Earths to provide this sustainably, and if everyone on Earth lived the lifestyle of the
average American we would need 5 Earths2. We of course only have one Earth.

This is why ecosystems are under stress and 60% of the Earth’s ecosystem services
are currently being degraded or used unsustainably, and the extinction rate is 1000
times natural levels (MA, 2005). Each year humanity’s ecological footprint continues
to expand as we increasingly overshoot the biocapacity the world can provide.
Australia’s current population and lifestyle are not ecologically sustainable in terms of
our impact on the ecosystem services that support us and our native species.
Australia’s population is going up by around 1.5% per year (and will double in less
than 50 years)3.

This is one of the fastest rates of increase in the developed world. This is partly due
to policies such as the Baby Bonus that encourage childbirth, and partly due to high
immigration rates. Australians are the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse
gases in the OECD4.

Ultimately we cannot roll back denial of climate change unless we roll back our
consumer worldview, as the 2010 State of the World Report explains in detail (ref)
Preventing the collapse of human civilisation requires nothing less than a wholesale
transformation of dominant consumer culture (ref) Consumption has gone up sixfold
since 1960 and (population) numbers have grown by a factor of 2.2. Consumption
expenditure per person has almost tripled (ref).


To protect nature through addressing issues of population and consumption.

1. Population growth is a key ethical issue. NCC upholds the intrinsic value of
nature. The natural world has a right to exist for itself, not just as something
to be used by humans. We have an ethical and ecological responsibility to
achieve and maintain ecologically sustainable ecosystems for all species on
this planet into the future.

2. Nature needs adequate natural areas to survive. The whole world ethically
ought not to be purely for human use. Human population and consumption
must thus be kept within limits that allow natural ecosystems to flourish into
the future. This is the basis of true ecological sustainability, where humans
and nature coexist sustainably.

3. The principle of inter-generational equity in Ecologically Sustainable
Development requires that we leave the Earth in as good or better condition
than we found it. To do this we need to reverse the current population and
consumption trend, and reach an ecologically sustainable population as soon
as possible in ways that are both humane and minimise environmental

4. Humans are dependent on ecosystems to survive. Ecosystems provide our
food, timber, fibre, medicines, and clean our air and water.

5. There are limits to both population and consumption, beyond which the life
support systems of the Earth degrade, ecosystems collapse, species
extinction escalates and essential ecosystem services decline. These limits
are being exceeded globally and within Australia. If continued, it will lead to
major ecological collapse, with large social impacts. The solutions must
involve action to reverse both population and consumption.

6. Population growth and high consumption levels exacerbate climate change,
one of the most serious issues humanity faces. Climate change alone could
cause the extinction of 35% of the Earth’s species (Thomas et al, 2004) and
degrade ecosystems, food production, water supplies and flood coastal areas
(Pittock, 2009)

Actions for the NCC

NCC should develop and keep updated an Action Plan that urges governments to
address the environmental impacts of population and consumption.

Actions for the NSW State Government

Successive NSW governments have failed to acknowledge or address increasing
population and consumption as key environmental problems that require control.
Strategies such as the Metropolitan Strategy Review (2011) contained no actions to
control Sydney’s population growth. Nor did it assess the stresses such population
growth will put on natural areas in and around Sydney, or suggested ways to control
these. NCC thus calls on the NSW Government to:

1. Immediately require its departments to consider NSW’s increasing population
and consumption as key problems the State faces in terms of environmental

2. Develop and adopt a plan for NSW to reach an ecologically sustainable
population. In particular Sydney needs to halt (then reverse) its population
growth so as to stop increasing impact on surrounding natural areas.

3. Adopt resource and land development policies compatible with an ecologically
sustainable and equitable society. The planning system needs to be changed
to minimise and reverse the impact due to population growth and
consumption (possibly through a SEPP).

4. Require State departments to develop strategies to educate the community on
the need to lower population and consumption, and how this can be done.
Actions for the Commonwealth Government

The Commonwealth Government has not accepted the need to acknowledge
population and consumption as key issues for Australia’s future. Historically,
Commonwealth action has been aimed at increasing Australia’s population. The
2011 ‘Issues Paper on a Sustainable Population Strategy for Australia’ failed to
acknowledge that the Commonwealth Government could in fact reduce population
growth, and instead focused on where population should be located. It also gave
little discussion on the environmental impact of increasing population and high per
capita consumption. The NCC accordingly urges the Commonwealth Government to:

* Reject those concepts which hold that increased population numbers and
consumption are a requirement for economic growth and social wellbeing.

* Establish a statutory structure to move towards an ecologically sustainable
population for Australia, one smaller than our current population. The
Government needs to develop a strategy identifying the target, how to reach
this target and by when. There should be regular independent reporting on
progress towards reaching this target.

* Consider both population and per capita consumption in determining an
ecologically sustainable population for Australia.

* Change policies that encourage population growth and increasing
consumption. This includes removal of the Baby Bonus, and a rapid
movement towards ecologically sustainable migration for Australia within a
specified timeline.

* Promote a ‘steady state economy’ underpinned by ecological sustainability in
the long-term. Measures such as a Green GNP should be applied rather than
GDP. A steady state economy (with a stable sustainable population lower
than our current population) would provide opportunities such as renewable
energy development, thus leading to job creation.

* Establish an independent Ecological Sustainability Commissioner. The
role of the ESC needs to be set in legislation, and would consider issues of
population, consumerism and environmental (or ecological) economics.

* Move from being one of the most wasteful of societies to being a world leader
in ecological sustainability. Australia should become a hub for sustainable and
appropriate technology (e.g. renewable energy).The Federal government
should adopt a program to reduce the per capita impact of Australians and
conserve resources. Consumption that is wasteful and/or which undermines
wellbeing must be minimised, for example by reducing wasteful packaging.
Consumer goods must be designed to last and be ‘cradle to cradle’ reusable.

* Support improved education, including family planning education at home and
abroad particularly supporting education and empowerment of women and
low income households (SOW, 2010). This should be accompanied by literacy
programs to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what family
planning means and what advisory services are available. Australia should
contribute a greater percentage of GDP to Family Planning information and
services overseas.

* Undertake education programs intended to increase public awareness on the
need for an ecologically sustainable population and how to achieve this
globally and locally. This would involve ‘below replacement level’ fertility and
a ‘no growth’ economy to meet the need to conserve our raw materials (and
those of other countries). The school curriculum should be changed to
incorporate this

Actions on the international level

On the international level, there is need to control population growth through
education (especially of women and low income households, SOW, 2010), through
policy and through other incentives. There is also the need to control consumption.
The rich nations consume more than their fair share of the Earth’s resources, and
need to reduce this consumption. At the same time, the developing world is
increasing its consumption and needs to be supported through appropriate
technology to minimise environmental impact. Australia should take a lead role in
such international debates.


MA (2005) Living Beyond Our Means: Natural Assets and Human Wellbeing, Statement from
the Board, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. UNEP (available at
Pittock, A.B. (2009) Climate change: the science, impacts and solutions, CSIRO Publishing/
Earthscan, Australia
SOW (2010) State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability.
Earthscan, London
Thomas, C., Cameron, A., Green, R., Bakkenes, M., Beaumont, L., Collingham, Y.,
Erasmus, B., Siqueira, M., Grainger, A., Hannah, L., Hughes, L., Huntley, B., Jaarsveld, A.,
Midgley, G., Miles, L., Ortega-Huerta, M., Peterson, A., Phlllips, O. and Williams, S. (2004)
‘Extinction risk from climate change’, Nature, vol 427, pp 145-148


Ecological footprint measures how much land and water area a human population requires
to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its CO2 emissions and other wastes.
Ecological sustainability is about taking action to solve the Earth’s environmental crisis by
monitoring, restoring and supporting the biodiversity and ecosystems (including ecosystem
services) that support us. It means that we ensure we do not exceed the Earth’s carrying

Biocapacity is the capacity of an area to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the
area’s ecological footprint exceeds its biocapacity, unsustainability occurs and the
ecosystem is degraded.

Ecosystem services are the benefits humans (and all species) derive from nature, such as
food, disease management, pollination, soil formation, water purification and regulation,
climate regulation, spiritual fulfilment and aesthetic enjoyment.


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