Alarm at Plan to Halve UK population
|Juliette Jowit||The Observer|
|Environment Editor||28 September 2003
A group of prominent academics is behind controversial proposals to
halve the number of people living in the UK over the next century, to
help solve the environmental threat posed by the growth in the world's
population. The Optimum Population Trust, made up of senior figures from
academia, the media and the environmental movement, was criticised last
week for suggesting that one method of reducing population levels would
be drastically to cut immigration.
The idea was raised at a conference in Oxford, attended by
representatives from several government departments, universities and
lobby groups. A growing number of people -- including Sir David
Attenborough -- believe damage to the world's natural resources can be
reduced only by cutting the population.
But the OPT plan is possibly the most radical. It believes the UK must
set an example to the world and reduce its population from nearly 60
million to 30 million by 2121. The group argues that, as the birthrate
is already very low, the only way to do this is to all but stop
immigration. Currently 171,800 more people come into the UK than leave
However, critics -- some alarmed at the trust's growing respectability --
claim that immigrants to the UK have no impact on global figures or the
world's environmental problems. The United Nations forecasts that world
population will increase from 6.3 billion to 9 billion by 2050.
UK population is expected to rise from 59 to 62 million, but the OPT
believes it will reach 71 million. Concern about destruction of the
environment is nothing new, but mostly the focus has been on how to
reduce the impact of each person.
The Oxford conference is a sign of the rising discussion about the total
number of consumers. It is a debate that's been had before in the UK --
most recently in the 1970s when the government appointed a short-lived
Minister of Population. The OPT is determined to put the subject back on
the agenda and is building up a network of influence.
Patrons include the broadcaster and natural historian Professor Aubrey
Manning, former UN ambassador and government adviser Sir Crispin
Tickell, and Jonathan Porritt, the former head of Friends of the Earth
and now chairman of the Government's Sustainable Development Commission.
One of the group's co-chairs is Professor John Guillebaud, professor of
family planning at University College London, and last week's conference
was jointly organised with Oxford University's Green College Centre. The
guest list included five government departments, the Met Office and the
The OPT says population growth -- from 1 billion in 1830 to 2 billion in
1930 and 6 billion in 1999 -- must be reversed, mostly through greater
access to contraception.
It says surveys show half of the women in poor countries would like to
prevent another pregnancy, and initiatives in Thailand and Bangladesh
suggest when women have access to contraception there is a sharp fall in
But the OPT's plans for Britain clearly made some people in Oxford
uneasy. At least two presenters challenged the arguments. Mike Mason, an
Oxford-based environmental consultant, said immigrants came from another
country, meaning there was no global increase, and many also sent money
home to their families, who became more prosperous and had fewer
'You can't be anything but global if you're interested in climate change,' he added.