Commission on Population and Development Reflects on 25 Years of Progress
UN Photo/Kim Haughton
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The UN Deputy Secretary-General observed that efforts on the SDGs “are not keeping pace with population growth”.

Delegates shared a range of perspectives and experiences on sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls and also discussed aging populations.

A high-level interactive panel reflected on key findings from the regional conferences to review progress on implementation of the Programme of Action.

5 April 2019: The 52nd session of the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD 52) reflected on “significant progress” made in the 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the adoption of its Programme of Action. CPD 52 also discussed closer integration between the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sexual and reproductive health care, and universal health coverage (UHC).

Since the adoption of the Programme of Action, examples of progress include reduced poverty, reduced child and maternal mortality, increased life expectancy, improved access to education and advances in gender equality and the empowerment of women. People are living longer in all regions, with the average global life expectancy increasing from 65 to 72 years, although there is a 15-year gap between citizens of most and least developed countries (LDCs). Urbanization trends continue, with the percent of the world’s population living in urban areas expected to increase from 56% today to 68% by 2050. Approximately 90% of urban growth will occur in Africa and Asia.

CPD 52 convened from 1-5 April 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. In opening remarks, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, on behalf of the UN Secretary-General, reflected on the “remarkable staying power” of the Programme of Action while noting gaps in implementation, remaining challenges and uneven progress. She observed that efforts on the SDGs “are not keeping pace with population growth.” For example, although the percentage of persons experiencing poverty in LDCs and those living in urban slums is declining, their overall number is still rising. Mohammed urged placing gender equality “at the core of each and every SDGs intervention,” engaging women and girls as agents of change, and providing the means for women to make decisions that affect their lives and bodies.

Looking ahead to the high-level discussion on UHC in September 2019, Mohammed called for identifying steps and resources to ensure coverage for all, including sexual and reproductive health care and services. The UN Deputy Secretary-General further called for delivering universal access to quality education, particularly for young girls, and raising ambition on climate mitigation, adaptation and financing. Mohammed concluded by emphasizing that the Commission’s findings and conclusions should inform discussions at the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

Speaking on behalf of the UN Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, Maria Francesca Spatolisano, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), highlighted four demographic mega-trends: population growth, population aging, international migration and urbanization. Spatolisano said international migration and urbanization “affect the spatial distribution of population” and are linked to sustainable development. UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Natalia Kanem welcomed progress on the Programme of Action and called for a focus on people-centered development and efforts to strengthen equal access to health, education and human dignity for all.

On sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls, delegates shared a range of perspectives and experiences. Many emphasized the critical role of sexual and reproductive health policies in empowering women and youth. Australia said universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health and rights is essential to achieve sustainable, inclusive development. Iceland called for eliminating all harmful practices and violence against women and accelerating progress towards universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including to foster gender equality. Ghana reported that it has established national guidelines for comprehensive sexuality education. Trinidad and Tobago launched a mobile app that enables young people to access sexual and reproductive health services. Seychelles said it has established a national policy for sexual and reproductive health. Burkina Faso has adopted a zero-tolerance policy on female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

The Russian Federation said the concept of comprehensive sexual education is not universally accepted, and that in Russia, sexual education is the responsibility of parents and guardians. Nauru said it does not view the promotion of abortion as a means of achieving sustainable development. The Holy See said the family, based on marriage, is entitled to protection and support. They added that suggesting that reproductive rights includes a right to abortion violates the language of the Cairo conference. Poland said support for families represents an investment in social capital that leads to higher social well-being.

Several delegates addressed sexual and reproductive health as part of UHC. Japan supported the promotion of UHC, including sexual and reproductive health. India described progress towards UHC, including a focus on reproductive and menstrual health management, mental health, nutrition and substance abuse. Brazil said it is working to ensure health coverage for overlooked groups as a step towards UHC.

Delegates also discussed aging populations. Chile shared his country’s “positive aging” concept, which focuses on the rights of older persons and changing the way they are perceived in society. Trinidad and Tobago observed there are economic and social costs associated with an aging population, including less tax revenue for public investments, and said the country has established a national aging policy. Italy suggested turning Africa’s “youth bulge” into an opportunity to unlock the potential of youth and put them at the heart of countries’ sustainable development. Colombia’s national development plan addresses the needs of older persons, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups. Germany recommended tapping the experience and wisdom of older people, noting that remaining active in old age requires good infrastructure. Japan offered to share experiences with older populations.

A high-level interactive panel highlighted key findings from the regional conferences to review progress on implementation of the Programme of Action, including that:

  • Africa is experiencing declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy, and has the youngest population in the world, with nearly 60% of its population under age 25, presenting both opportunities and challenges;
  • The Arab region is experiencing: a decline in infant, child and maternal mortality; increased gender parity in education; and challenges such as disparities in human development and income levels and the world’s highest youth unemployment rate;
  • The Asia-Pacific region has “a long way to go” in broadening sexual and reproductive health services, and requires increased efforts to address inequality and aging;
  • Europe is pursuing efforts to tackle challenges related to population aging and non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and working to empower women and girls, including by better balancing work and childcare; it is also experiencing a high adult mortality rate and a low fertility rate;
  • Latin America and the Caribbean identified income inequality as a key challenge and emphasized that countries must increase efforts to address poverty, exclusion and inequality, particularly among vulnerable groups.

On the way forward, participants supported addressing youth unemployment and harnessing demographic dividends, investing in health and education, addressing inequality in access to sexual and reproductive health services, increasing capacity for statistics, and integrating indicators from the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

An interactive dialogue titled, ‘On the Road to 2030: The continuing relevance of the International Conference on Population and Development,’ discussed impacts of population growth on the environment, including biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, air pollution and water scarcity. Panelists underscored countries’ and regions’ varying capacities to tackle and adapt to environmental changes, recommending regional cooperation for technological innovation and advocating for behavioral changes towards greener consumption patterns.

Several participants called for further efforts on SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities). Participants also reflected on food security and nutrition, the impacts of migration and disaster risk reduction (DRR). [CPD 52 Website] [UN News Story] [UN Deputy Secretary-General’s Opening Remarks] [UN Meeting Coverage of CPD Discussion on Reproductive Rights] [UN Meeting Coverage of CPD Discussion on Regional Panel] [CPD Key Findings]


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