A Developing Country Perspective on
Population, Environment, and Development

By Adil Najam
Population Research and Policy Review, Vol. 15 No. 1, Pgs. 1-17

What appears below is the original submission which may have been editorially, but not substantively changed for publication. To send comments or request hard copies of this, or my other publications, please send email to anajam@mit.edu.

Key words: Developing countries; population and environment; international conferences; international cooperation; North-South relations.

The perception of population growth as a `problem' is not new.(1) That the catastrophe predicted by so many has been averted till now does not necessarily disprove the arguments of these Cassandras.(2) However, Pollyannas like Julian Simon (1981) have taken much pleasure in rubbing in this fact and insist that human ingenuity will continue to outpace human propensity for procreation.(3) It is within this context that much of the debate on the subject has been historically framed, with occasional shifts in popular and scholarly sentiments towards one side or the other.

The recent growth of popular interest in environmental issues has generated a renewal of concern about rapid population growth, which is seen as being largely responsible for global trends of environmental degradation (Hardin 1968; Ehrlich 1968; Meadows et al. 1972; Holdren & Ehrlich 1974; Brown 1981; Keyfitz 1989; Myers 1990). The causal relationship between the two seems intuitively obvious. Yet, it is being contested by a number of critical interests. Although some in the population community may consider such views peripheral to the mainstream debate, the prevalence and persistence of the dissension on the environment-population linkage may be gauged from the fact that in 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development, reached unanimous agreement on all issues except two-Antarctica and the causal significance of population growth (Shaw 1992). Again, at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) population remained the most contentious issue (Najam 1993a).

Most surprising is the reaction of the developing countries. On the one hand, many of them have very high population growth rates and are most immediately vulnerable to its consequences. At the same time, many of them support strong domestic population policies, which have been in place over long periods of time, and are vigorously-and sometimes coercively-enforced. Yet, at the international level, these same states seem hesitant, and sometimes hostile, to the notion of accepting a direct causal link between global environmental degradation and population growth. See Krasner (1985), Najam (1993a), Amalric & Banuri (1993), Mahbub-ul-Haq (1994).

This paper attempts to understand why the developing countries of the South are so weary of international population policy in the name of the environment.(4) It is essentially a study of the political behavior of Southern governments. It is argued that the South's response has been, and continues to be, shaped by five inter-related concerns:

The rest of this paper will look at how the discussion on population - environment - development policies ignores the South's concerns and, in doing so, alienates the very group of countries that is being required to carry out such policies. It will also briefly review the effects of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) on the South's evolving position of the subject. Finally, it shall attempt to highlight some implications for international policy.

The Population-Environment-Development Nexus

In its most simple articulation, the argument of the new `green' Cassandras has flowed from two observations: a) the planet has never had as many people as it has today; and b) the planet has never seen as much environmental stress on its natural systems as it is experiencing today. The correlation between the two is then extrapolated to imply causality.

In fairness to its proponents, the argument has become far more sophisticated over time. The reigning view is best identified by the Holdren-Ehrlich (1974) identity(5):

This identity, while not without serious limitations,(6) is elegant in that it attempts to capture both the number of users and the rate of use of natural systems. However, most scholars who use this, or similar, formulations often end up focusing on the population variable rather than the other two. For example, Nazli Choucri (1991: 100) suggests that "the population nexus as a whole-the interaction of population, resources, and technological change-must become the focus of global policy." However, she is quick to add that while population policy alone is by no means sufficient it is nonetheless necessary, implying that it is here that the most emphasis should be invested. Others have made similar arguments on the grounds that population policies will `help buy time' (Keyfitz 1991; Shaw 1992). Implicit in such arguments seems the belief that changing population patterns is somehow `easier' than changing patterns of consumption or technology.

From the South's point of view, while the diagnosis suggests that both the number (i.e. population growth) and the rate (i.e. consumption patterns) are at least equally critical as motors of causality, the prescription focuses unduly on the first and not enough on the later. For many in the developing world, such a conceptualization adds insult to injury in that the focus on population as the main cause of environment degradation implicitly places the responsibility for such degradation on their doorsteps, even though the `benefits' have been reaped by those in the North.

Very often, then, the argument becomes merely a more sophisticated rehash of the more simplistic conception introduced earlier. For example, Nathan Keyfitz (1991: 77 & 44) writes:

Ceteris, however, is not paribus. Keyfitz knows that all else is not constant. He prefaces the above by saying that "with given technology and given style of life the requirements from the environment are proportional to the number of people" (p. 44). However, neither technology nor lifestyle is `given.' Yet, he chooses (as do most other analysts) to hold consumption constant in arguing for policies that would control the population variable. The implication seems to be that the North's lifestyle as it relates to consumption is accepted as a `given' because it cannot (or is it, `should' not?) be changed, but the South's lifestyle as it relates to procreation is not because it can.

The South's Response

Such arguments have the dual implication of holding population growth responsible for environmental degradation and touting population control as the most efficient option for environmental amelioration.

On the first count, the South responds by pointing out, for example, that the average Bangladeshi uses 2 milligrams of CFCs per year in comparison to the average U.S. citizen who uses 2 kilograms per year; as such the `environmental impact' of an extra Bengali, in CFC terms, is only 1/1000th that of an extra American. On the second, they reason that even if the policy focus is to be only on population and not on consumption, it makes more sense to do so in the North where one averted birth is likely to produce 1000 times the environmental `benefit' that it would in the South. Further, Southern commentators challenge the assumption that it is somehow `easier' to reduce population amongst the poor than to curb consumption amongst the rich. If environment is the main concern, they argue, would it be easier to change lifestyles (consumption) of the few who are very rich or the children preferences of the very many who are poor. Arguably, the lifestyle change involved in reducing CFC consumption for an individual in USA is no more difficult-in fact, it should be far easier-than changing the children preference demanded from a peasant in Bangladesh. See Mahbub-ul-Haq (1994), Najam (1993b) and Ramphal (1994).

While the question of efficiency relates to the relative importance of the various options to check environmental degradation, the issue of efficacy concerns the effectiveness of various means to curb population growth. Since the South nowhere questions the need for population policies per se-and actively pursues them domestically-the efficacy of such policies is crucial for implementation. This brings us to that critical question of why people in poor conditions have high population growth. Environmentalists tend to spend too much effort in arguing why population should be controlled, and population experts spend too much time in figuring out how it could be controlled, but way too little thought is invested in why people have as many children as they do. Falling mortality rates, old-age security, religion, and the sheer inertia of the demographic momentum are all valid and important factors, but they offer little in way of policy advice. For example, maintaining high mortality is ethically unacceptable, quick changes in social or religious preferences cannot be legislated, nor can changes in the nature of demographic momentum.

For the poorest, the difference between having four children or five is often not the difference between four hungry mouths to feed or five, but that between eight hands to earn with or ten. The rational cost-benefit analysis of childbearing decisions yields very different results where children become earning members before age ten, from where parents have to factor in the escalating costs of an expensive college education before thinking about that extra child. The fundamental, still un-bridged, gap between North and South in matters pertaining to population is that what people in the industrialized world see as a problem of `too many people' is seen by those in the developing countries as the problem of `too much poverty.' The most vivid exemplars of this persistent chasm remains the following (still relevant) quotes from Paul Ehrlich and Mahmood Mamdani:

At the 1974 World Population Conference, held at Bucharest, the South rallied under the twin slogans: `Development is the best contraceptive' and `Take care of the people and the population will take care of itself'. Ten years later, at the 1984 International Conference on Population, held at Mexico City, the United States took a U-turn on its earlier position, and argued that population growth was in fact a "neutral phenomenon." In what was essentially a critique of its own earlier policies, the US proclaimed that there had been a "demographic over-reaction" in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of "economic statism" in the developing countries and "an outbreak of anti-intellectualism" in the West. The US proclamation that it sought "an opportunity to strengthen the international consensus on the interrelationship between economic development and population" should have thrilled the South. It did not. See Finkle & Crane (1975 & 1985), Johnson (1987).

The difference between the South's continuing insistence on development being the best contraceptive and the US's Mexico City position that `sound economic policies' were the best contraceptive is subtle but profound. The South's call, at least in theory, has been for development at large, an improvement in the quality of life, an expansion of economic options available to poor; the US view at Mexico, on the other hand, was a political tactic, an ideological call for "a market economy. [which would] encourage a vital private sector."

In short, the South had been calling for development, the US was trying to push a particular brand of economics. At the 1994 Cairo conference, the US position reverted back to its earlier pro-population control agenda. The South's insistence on a development agenda, however, remained intact and has influenced the ICPD documents, most notably in the changed nomenclature of the conference itself-the fact that Cairo was not a conference on population alone but one on population and development is itself indicative of the enduring importance that the South has placed on framing the population question within a larger developmental agenda. See Najam (1994), ICPD (1994).

Having said the above, the dilemma posed by Keyfitz (1991: 39-40) is one that planners all over the South are wrestling with: "population growth can prevent the development that would slow population growth"; the question is how to break the circular chain of "poverty-many children-poverty." The scholarly debate on the subject remains inconclusive. From the point of view of the developing countries, however, the case for development being a good (although not the only) contraceptive is still supported more robustly by the evidence than the case for contraception being a good development strategy.

It is the South's insistence that development is the most effective check for rapid population growth and the South's fear that in their zeal to focus on population (and the environment) the donor nations of the industrialized world will divert resources from development assistance to population programs, that raises their concerns about additionality. In raising this point, the South articulates its skepticism about the motivations behind the North's concern for population growth and also illustrates its preference for developmental, as opposed to contraceptive, solutions. What it is seeking here is a reassurance that international priority for population (or environment) policies will not come at the cost of domestic priorities for economic development.

This concern had arguably subsided during the 1980s. Since the US policy reversal at Mexico meant that population was no longer the priority for the major international donor, a concern about additionality on the part of the recipient became moot. However, the end of the cold war has rekindled the fears as was evident at both UNCED, 1992 and ICPD, 1994. A world without superpower antagonisms is also a world with very different perspectives on `development assistance'. Coinciding with a global economic recession, massive debt accumulations, trade imbalances, and a new negative flow of resources, this gives three signals to the South:

At Cairo, the former Soviet bloc economies in transition were able to make a strong claim that along with the developing countries they too should be beneficiaries to international economic assistance including that earmarked for population activities (ICPD 1994). In the follow-up debate in the UN General Assembly, many Southern delegates stressed the facts that a) under the Cairo plan the bulk of actual implementation is to be done by the developing countries, b) that this would require vast amounts of resources that must be provided by the international community, and c) that it was important that the developed countries not only provide these resources expeditiously but that they do so without diverting funds from existing programs of development assistance (ENB 1994). In short, additionality continues to remain a major defining concern in the South's position. If anything, the threat of the North's neo-Malthusian enthusiasm diverting funds from larger development goals to narrower contraceptive ones is now compounded by the fear that even those meager funds will be diverted to economies in transition rather than the South.

Finally, there is the issue of whether the South is being hypocritical in vehemently opposing population policies internationally while actively pursuing them domestically, or whether it is merely `blackmailing' the North for more development assistance? The answer, on both counts, is "No." An explanation of the South's behavior can be found in the paramount importance that all states, and particularly the weak states of the South, place on sovereignty.

Sovereignty is an artifact not merely of land controlled, but of people represented. To relinquish control over people, and how people make their most intimate decisions, is to relinquish control over state sovereignty; no nation-South or North-is yet ready to do so. Developing countries see no contradiction in supporting massive population programs domestically and resisting population policies internationally. In the first they are responding to what they believe to be an important local problem. In the second, they are resisting what they consider to be external interference in how they run their own affairs. Krasner (1985: 277) explains the point:

This has been obvious to the South, and to perceptive observers in the North, from the very beginning. For example, just before Bucharest, French demographer Alfred Sauvy pointed out:

The same could be said of the Cairo Program of Action.

Another way to understand the South's behavior in supporting domestic population policies but opposing international ones is to use the framework advocated by Amalric & Banuri (1993) which views the population problem as not one, but three separate issues. At the local level, they argue, the central aspect revolves around the health of the mother and the children and the resource problems of the commons; at the national level it turns around the links between population growth and (economic) development, with particular focus on the consequences for capital formulation, employment, and the capacity of the government to purvey social services; at the international level the growing focus is on the links between population growth and global environmental degradation. In essence, the South rejects (and has consistently rejected) the international debate and its concomitant causal linkage between population growth and environmental degradation. It has concentrated, till now, on the national level where the emphasis is on economic issues and has only begun, in the wake of ICPD, to focus on the local level. At both these levels, the legitimate role for the international community is that of providing assistance, not policy guidelines.

For Southern states, viewing the population debate largely from the national level, sovereignty becomes the premier focus. As developing country delegates at ICPD and the follow-up session of the UN General Assembly stressed repeatedly, the implementation of population policies remains a sovereign right of nation states and there is no prospect of anything changing that in the foreseeable future (ICPD 1994; ENB 1994). Is the South against population policies?

The danger in the South's arguments is that they can be too easily misconstrued into implying that the developing nations are `against' population policy per se. However, as the evidence of population programs within the South demonstrate, this is not the case. Importantly, there is the underlying argument that runs through the entire discourse: slowing the rate of population growth is ultimately good for the developing countries themselves. This, more than any pressure from the international community, is why so many developing countries operate large population programs, and between them spend more on population than all international assistance combined. Commenting upon the seemingly confrontational stance taken by the South at the 1974 World Population Conference, Finkle & Crane (1975: 109) had pointed out that "the developing nations will not turn away from their demographic dilemmas merely to spite the West." That statement is still valid. The issue, for the South, is not whether to control population, but why and how.

In its report The Challenge to the South, the South Commission (1990: 213) stressed that "the containment of the population explosion. is to be sought through development in the South and through a fairer distribution of income." However, it added that "while family planning measures are vitally necessary, they are more effective as economic security and living standards improve. Poverty must be eradicated, for only then will it be possible to create the conditions in which people are more likely to see virtue in smaller families" (emphasis added). Writing in 1972, Mahbub-ul-Haq (83; 134) made an eloquent case for the South(7):

Two decades later, the South's case essentially remains the same, as this more recent excerpt from Mahbub-ul-Haq (1994: 5) testifies:

The South at Cairo

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held at Cairo from September 5-13, 1994, is being hailed as "one of the best publicized-and most successful-international conferences ever held" (Freeman 1994: 7). Dr. Nafis Sadik, UNFPA executive director and ICPD secretary general, considers the Program of Action adopted by the conference to be a "quantum leap" (Sadik 1994: 3). Despite controversies about reproductive health and abortion and the fact that as many as 18 delegations recorded reservations to the final document,(8) Cairo was a far more dormant gathering than preceding conferences at Bucharest (1974) and Mexico City (1984). However, beyond the fact that no unexpected controversies or fault-lines emerged at Cairo, as they had at Bucharest and Mexico City,(9) there was little in the ICPD process or products that was unanticipated (see Najam 1994).

In a post-Cairo statement, Ambassador Nicolaas H. Biegman (1994: 15) of the Netherlands has opined that "there was no `Southern' and no `Northern' approach [at Cairo], and this made the Conference such an outstanding exception in the ever-lengthening series of big UN gatherings." The diplomatic appropriateness of such sentiments aside, a careful analysis of the concerns expressed by developing country delegates during the ICPD process demonstrates that not only was their a distinct `Southern' approach at Cairo, but it was consistent with the South's historically persistent approach to population, environment and development as already outlined in this study.

For example, in its position statement to the third ICPD preparatory committee meeting, the Group of 77 and China (the representative caucus of over 130 developing countries in the UN system) laid out the basis of the South's essential position in terms no different from those used at Bucharest and Mexico City (G77 1994):

Even more illustrative are the statements made by developing states during the discussion on ICPD follow-up and implementation (17-18 November 1994) during 49th session of the UN General Assembly (ENB 1994). This is where states had the opportunity to highlight the issues and concerns most important to them.(10) Each of the five Southern concerns identified above were forcefully presented by developing country delegates. For example, discussing the importance of environmental issues, and voicing concerns about responsibility and efficiency, the delegate from Antigua and Barbuda (speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Economic Community and Suriname) made it a point to explicitly insist that the industrialized countries "must cease and desist from harmful production, wasteful consumption and deadly disposal patterns."(11)

The `development as a powerful contraceptive'-or efficacy-argument was imbedded within the very name of the Cairo meeting and is ubiquitous throughout the Program of Action (ICPD 1994). More specifically, during the General Assembly debate, the ambassador from Malta pointed out that a selective approach, which emphasizes the implementation of a restrictive demographic orientation and sacrifices the developmental perspective, would be detrimental to the success of the Program of Action; Egypt added that in order to implement ICPD decisions the focus of the UN Population Commission should shift from demography to development; Bangladesh summed the view of the South succinctly by simply stating that "the goals of the ICPD will fall short if poverty is not eradicated." See ENB (1994).

On additionality, the only assurance the South was able to get was in the objective of "increas[ing] the commitment to, and the stability of, international financial assistance in the field of population and development by diversifying the sources of contributions, while striving to avoid as far as possible a reduction in the resources for other development areas" (ICPD 1994: para 14.10b, emphasis added). However, the conference also recognized the claim of former Soviet bloc countries to population and development related funds.(12) The urgency of diminishing international funds and increasing claimants was not lost on developing countries who repeatedly stressed the importance of the North fulfilling its financial commitments. Zimbabwe explicitly raised the additionality concern by stressing that the international community must provide "new and additional" financial resources to ensure adequate implementation; China repeated the sentiment and added the concern about conditionality, stating that no country should attach any conditions to its donations made in the field of population and development. See ENB (1994).

Finally, sovereignty gained a new salience at Cairo as existing concerns about political sovereignty were joined by new concerns about cultural and religious sovereignty which were brought to fore by the discussion on abortion and reproductive rights. In fact, all the states who expressed reservations on the final document did so around some formulation of the sovereignty argument. Many, amongst those who did not register reservations, did make a point of explicitly clarifying that in their interpretation of the ICPD decisions no element of sovereignty-at any level-had been ceded by states, who remain solely responsible for deciding which population and development policies best suit their particular social, cultural, developmental, and religious conditions. Particularly strong statements in this regards were made by Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria-all three amongst the ten most populated countries in the world. See ENB (1994).


The Cairo conference-like its predecessors-was an important step in the continuing evolution of the `population question' rather than being the resolution of the `population problem.' This was especially true with the ICPD's strong focus on social development and women's rights. It is also true about the abiding concerns of the developing countries about population-environment-development issues. Even though the substance of the concerns has endured-and, hence, the continuing North-South debate on the subject-the nuances therein have evolved.

On responsibility and efficiency the South's arguments are less contested today even though there is no indication of policy change on consumption patterns in the North. On efficacy, the South's argument remains that `development is the best contraceptive' although development is now more broadly defined, encompassing human and social-as opposed to the merely economic-dimensions. On additionality, new threats have begun to emerge around the double threat of a diminishing pool of available resources and new claimants to its bounty.(13) On sovereignty, the earlier concerns have remained unchanged and been added to by new concerns about cultural and religious sovereignty as international policy attempts to move into the more intimate domains of issues such as reproductive health and abortion.

In sum, important differences persist between the North's and South's perception of the population-environment-development nexus. From the South's perspective, the ideal international policies would be those:

While parts of a few of these conditions are already being met, at least in the rhetoric, the entirety of this package of principles is unlikely to be accepted. Specifically, a grand North-South bargain that might exchange population control policies in the South for consumption control policies in the North was never on the cards for Cairo, and remains unlikely in the foreseeable future. Northern consumers and politicians-even Northern environmental groups-are unlikely to support such policies; also, such proposals will find little enthusiasm amongst Southern elites. Further, the South's position is weak because it is likely to continue its population policies even if no such deal is struck, while the North has limited domestic pressure (or interest) and no international incentive to pursue unilateral consumption control policies.

Moreover, despite the rhetoric of Cairo, a massive transfer of resources from North to South for broadly defined development is also unlikely; whatever transfers will be made are likely to be narrowly directed at contraceptive and family planning-like activities. A conservative political shift and the continuing economic problems in the North-combined with public disdain for international assistance and the diminishing geostrategic importance of the South-is likely to further constrain the actual amounts of any North-South resource transfer.

While this prognosis may seem pessimistic, it is no more than a realistic view of the future given past experience and present conditions. That international policy action on population is unlikely does not, however, mean that all international efforts in the field of population, environment and development are futile. The focus, however, will have to shift from attempting to `create' international population policies to `supporting' domestic population policies. The first is unwise and prone to conflict because at the individual level it impinges upon the most intimate of personal decisions and at the national level it challenges fundamental state sovereignty. The later, however, is an advisable-and even efficient-course of action because nearly all countries with high population growth rates are already pursuing strong domestic population programs which provide the international community opportunity to demonstrate their support for them.

Having said the above, there should be no illusion about this being an `easy' strategy. Few in the South really believe that such an attitude is forthcoming. There is no indication whatsoever that the North is ready to adopt a supportive but hands-off and non-interference policy as far as its foreign assistance dollars are concerned. Despite all the talk about national sovereignty or the rights of communities and individuals, international donors are no more prepared to stop interfering in the decisions of recipient states than states are prepared to do so with communities and individuals. Until an international climate of such mutual trust and confidence is established, a minimum first step for both North and South would be to try to understand, even where they do not agree with, the concerns of the other. In trying to foster such understanding, this paper has attempted not as much to defend the South's position as to present its persistent concerns and explain the rationale-from the South's viewpoint-behind these concerns.


1 - Nor is the call for making population control an explicitly stated goal of governance and policy a new development. The ancient Greeks certainly did not view the arrival of every child simply as a blessing. Hesiod argued that one son was enough. Plato and Aristotle envisaged the state's policing marriage and eugenically eliminating excess and unfit children. By the same token, as many examples can be cited of explicit pronatalist policies being advocated both by scholars and governments for a whole variety of reasons. See McLaren (1990).
2 - Meadows et al. (1992) remind their readers that there is little reason to celebrate if the predictions of their earlier work, The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972), have not yet materialized. They argue that the thresholds of resource limits are nearer today, and are now more likely to collapse suddenly. Paul Ehrlich (with Anne H. Ehrlich 1990) defends the alarmist predictions of his earlier work, The Population Bomb (Ehrlich 1968), with similar arguments. The essential case for not becoming complacent merely because humanity has, till now, demonstrated remarkable adeptness in the face of ever-rising populations is made by Nathan Keyfitz (1991: 43) who stresses that "simply supposing that relations among past values of the variables will hold in the future can give absurd results." Keyfitz (1991: 40) also points out that "an ecological crisis can come suddenly, like a point of singularity, when the underlying curves are smooth."
3 - Julian Simon (1981) considers population to be "the ultimate resource." This argument, too, boasts of an ancient lineage. In 59 B.C. Julius Caesar legislated land allotments to fathers of three or more children, while Roman Emperor Augustus promulgated laws in 18 B.C. and 9 A.D. which pressured widows to remarry and punished celibacy and childlessness. See McLaren (1990).
4 - For the purpose of this discussion we will consider the `South' to be a single (though not monolithic) entity representing the developing countries. This paper uses the term `South' (which is a political concept) in lieu of terms like `Third World' or the `Developing World' (which have generally been construed as economic concepts). For more on the concept of the `South,' see Najam (1993a).
5 - In its various formulations, this approach has been advocated as the theoretical synthesis of the population-environment linkage (UNFPA 1991; Harrison 1992) and applied empirically to specific environmental questions (Myers 1990; Bongaarts 1992). Although the I=PAT approach is currently the most widely held view on the subject, it is not necessarily the only one. Another approach is advocated by Shaw (1989 & 1992) which argues that to date rapid population growth does not qualify as an ultimate cause of global environmental degradation, rather it is a proximate factor and that distortionary social, economic, and political factors are, in fact, the ultimate causes.
6 - For one thing it tells us nothing about the direction of the relationship between technology (T) and the environmental impact (I) or that between A and I. Also, if the South is correct in the importance of development as a contraceptive then a drop in P may be difficult without a corresponding rise in A and T, and is likely to leave I little changed. For a commentary on the limitations of the I=PAT identity see Shaw (1992) and Amalric & Banuri (1993).
7 - Dr. Mahbub-ul-Haq is currently chief author of the UN Development Program's annual Human Development Reports. He has remained one of the leading representative intellectual leaders of the South for the last 25 years, and is therefore a creditable exemplar of the South's views on the subject.
8 - Reservations to the final documents were recorded by Afghanistan, Argentina, Brunei, Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Holy See, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Malta, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The Holy See which had refused to join the consensus at the 1974 and 1984 population conferences, announced that it was joining the Cairo consensus "in an incomplete, partial manner." It supported the emphases on linking population and development, on the protection of the family and on empowering women through improved access to education and health care, but stated that the texts of other chapters had implications it could not support. Although the partial consensus accepted by the Holy See is regarded by some as an important achievement of ICPD it should be noted that the number of states officially recording reservations at Cairo was higher than at Bucharest and Mexico City.
9 - At Bucharest the South, led by China, had surprised the North by the intensity of its concerns about the proposed Plan of Action and forced it to be substantively redrafted; at Mexico City it was the United States that surprised conference organizers by changing its position at the last minute and proposing that population was a "neutral phenomenon" (see Finkle & Crane 1975 & 1985; Johnson 1987).
10 - By necessity, UN conferences cover a wide range of issues and incorporate a wider range of interests. All too often, the result is ambiguous language delicately crafted to accommodate all interests and all parties. However, the post-conference General Assembly debate (and the conference plenary debates) provide state representatives the opportunity to highlight the concerns and interests most important to them. It is instructive to note that the issue of abortion which was seen by so many as the main highlight of ICPD, thanks to the Vatican delegation and the Western media, was far less prominent when nations recounted issues of the greatest interest to them at the General Assembly. See ENB (1994).
11 - The terminology in the Cairo Program of Action is much diluted and crafted to be acceptable to both North and South: "Demographic factors, combined with poverty and lack of access to resources in some areas, and excessive consumption and wasteful production patters in others, cause or exacerbate problems of environmental degradation and resource depletion and thus inhibit sustainable development" (ICPD 1994: para 3.25). Note the use of `demographic factors' as opposed to `population growth'; as at UNCED this choice reflects a delicate balance. It accommodates the South's insistence that the population variable of importance to the environment is distribution with respect to natural resources rather than sheer numbers. More importantly, the paragraph makes clear the South's view that population becomes a causal factor in terms of environmental degradation only in relation to poverty on the one hand and over-consumption on the other.
12 - In Chapter 14 (on `International Cooperation') the ICPD Program of Action defines one of its objective as "to increase substantially the availability of international financial assistance. [to] developing countries and countries with economies in transition" (ICPD 1994: para 14.10a, emphasis added). However, the South was able to have it stated that "countries with economies in transition should receive temporary assistance for population and development activities" (ICPD 1994: para 14.15).
13 - It is likely that the majority won by the Republican party in recent elections to the US Congress will exacerbate this concern. With the Republicans being traditionally unsympathetic to global institutions and initiatives it is being projected that US funding for ICPD implementation would be one of the casualties (Shepard 1994). If so, then the international assistance pie available to the South would shrink even more.


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