Press Conference to Mark World Reaching a 7 Billion Population

31 October 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference to Mark World Reaching a 7 Billion Population


As the world population officially reached 7 billion today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for global solidarity to address pressing problems of climate change, economic crisis and inequality in order to make the world a better place for current and future generations. 

He pledged to work towards those aims this week during the Group of Twenty (G-20) Summit in Cannes.  “My message will be loud and clear:  Think about our children.  Think about the future, with vision and foresight,” he said during a Headquarters news conference today.

The Secretary-General pointed to famine in the Horn of Africa, unrest in Syria, global protests against economic inequality from Wall Street to Main Street, and loss of faith in Governments and public institutions to do the right thing.  He cited terrible contradictions — plentiful food but 1 billion people going hungry; lavish lifestyles for a few, but poverty for too many others; and huge advances in medicine, while mothers died in childbirth and children perished from drinking dirty water.

During the Summit, those issues must be addressed “squarely and directly”, he said, and added that:  “The world’s people want answers from their leaders.  They expect solutions, not half-measures or excuses.”

The global population was expected to grow to 9 billion by mid-century, or possibly by 2043, the Secretary-General said.

For much of the world, fiscal austerity was the new order of the day.  “Yet, even in these difficult times, we cannot afford to cut loose those who are hardest hit,” he said.  He stressed the need to empower women and protect the environment. 

He also expressed his condolences to the victims and the families of those killed in the terrorist attack near the United Nations offices in Kandahar early in the day.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s concerns, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, President of the General Assembly, said today’s milestone was a stark reminder that the “bottom billion” were vulnerable and grappled daily with the consequences of escalating environmental challenges, poverty, inequity, wars and economic instability.

But, it was also an opportunity to come together to reach the Millennium Development Goals; rethink the approach to sustainable development; pool collective financial, moral and human capital; invest in youth and women; and showcase the United Nations ability to deliver as one.  “In harnessing these opportunities, we have at our fingertips the mechanisms and tools enshrined in the Charter, as well as the United Nations good offices, including [United Nations Population Fund],” he said.

He pledged to focus the Assembly’s attention this session on the importance of sustainable development and global prosperity.

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said the challenges were formidable, with new pressures on land, energy, food and infrastructure and on Governments that must provide education, health and other services.  Some of the solutions were readily available.  “But we must act now,” he said.

Noting that an estimated 215 million women in the developing world lacked access to family planning, he stressed the need to make motherhood safe, by caring for pregnant women, preventing deaths in childbirth and providing nutrition to mothers and babies.  Moreover, girls must have the same educational opportunities as boys, and both must have access to sex education to protect themselves from HIV and to make informed decisions about having children. 

Slagjana Sokolova, a UNFPA Special Youth Fellow, said growing up in rural Macedonia she experienced first hand the limited employment opportunities and social protection for young people in developing countries that forced them to migrate to big cities and developed nations.  Those forced to migrate faced daily discrimination, violence and inequity.  She challenged Governments and decision-makers to make wise, sustainable decisions for their future.  “You need to invest in young people.  You need to hear our voices, you need to work with us and for us,” she said.

Asked what Governments and the United Nations could do to cope with explosive population growth, Mr. Osotimehin said he was trying to raise awareness of such serious challenges as rising inequality, and extreme poverty, food insecurity and high death and birth rates in the poorest countries, and to address them comprehensively through sustainable development as a matter of priority.  By mid-century, when 7 of the planet’s estimated 9 billion people would live in cities, it was crucial to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent.  The upcoming Rio+20 Conference must be a success and lead to a concrete, workable action plan. 

Asked if the United Nations had identified who was the world’s seven billionth baby, he said it had not.  Mr. Osotimehin said the Organization was not celebrating or anointing any child anywhere.  Rather, it aimed to sensitive the global community about issues surrounding 7 billion people. 

Asked how the world would cope with limited water, air and other resources when the global population reached 10 billion, Mr. Al-Nasser said it would face serious problems unless the international community collectively joined forces to fulfil the Millennium targets.  The high-level meeting held at Headquarters in September on desertification and the meeting of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) held in the Republic of Korea in October aimed to address those concerns, as would next year’s Rio+20 Conference. 

Mr. Osotimehin said the Assembly and the Secretariat were working towards an integrated approach to sustainability and solutions to problems concerning water, food security and crises in many parts of world due to climate change. 

As to whether he was surprised by the UNFPA report’s findings that the United States was the largest receiver of international migrants, Mr. Al-Nasser said he was not, as the United States had well-developed immigration policies. 

Asked if more open borders could help resolve migration concerns, Mr. Osotimehin said he would work with Member States based on national policies and laws in that regard. 

Regarding the United States intention to withhold its contributions to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for its decision earlier in the day to admit Palestine as a member, the Secretary-General said it was incumbent upon Member States to consistently provide the United Nations system with political and financial support.  He said they would need to work on tactical solutions to maintain UNESCO’s financial resources, but he declined to comment further.  He stressed the need to advance the Mideast peace process, saying the two-State solution was long overdue.

On the issue of Palestine’s application for full membership in the United Nations, Mr. Al-Nasser said the Security Council’s Membership Committee was still discussing the issue and would likely make its recommendation to the Council within 10 days.

Asked why the United Nations was not as concerned about the situation in Bahrain and Yemen as in Syria, the Secretary-General said, in fact, he was concerned about all of them and had appealed to their respective leaders to institute reforms, fulfil their peoples’ expectations, immediately stop killing civilians and begin a long-overdue political dialogue.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.