Gates stresses on need for population reduction

Harish Damodaran Davos | Updated on January 29, 2011

Microsoft chief Mr Bill Gates believes that ‘sustainable development' can have misleading implications, particularly for poor and undernourished populations.

“It is not just to expect the bottom 2 billion people, who use very little energy, to sustain their present situation. We want them to have better lifestyles,” the billionaire philanthropist said at a session on ‘Redefining Sustainable Development' at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting here on Friday.

Noting that consumption of energy and food will only go up in the next 100 years, Mr Gates said that there was “no justice” in seeking reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by advising people “to use less energy than the average European” or “telling Indians to use one candle instead of two”.

A better approach would be to aim for population growth reduction by investing in family planning. This would involve focussing on the reproductive health of women, vaccines and taking special care of babies in the crucial first 30 days of their lives. These, he added, should be accompanied by a second Green Revolution that would double food productivity/acre.

Mr Gates felt that while it was not just to “hold back consumption of poor people”, what could be ensured is that the increase in overall energy consumption will still lead to a lower environmental impact per person.

“And that is where the opportunities for innovations lie and we must see that such innovations are not underfinanced,” he pointed out.

Growing middle class

Partially echoing Mr Gate's views, Mr Mike Duke, President and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, US, referred to the growing middle class in emerging economies and others “desiring to live better”.

Their rise is bound to drive up energy costs over a long period of time and also lead to doubling of food demand. That, in turn, raises the issue of sustainability, which businesses on their own should take seriously and not wait for the Government to act.

According to Mr Duke, a time will come when consumers themselves will start demanding products that have ratings on sustainability or measuring carbon footprint impact. This is inevitable with the progress of technology, which brings in more transparency and creates greater consumer awareness.

“At Wal-Mart, we are engaging with not only our real estate, merchandise and store executives, but even our 2 million associates (suppliers) worldwide to make their operations more sustainable, energy efficient and less wasteful,” he said.

Wal-Mart has, in fact, developed a Sustainable Product Index to assess the environmental impact of its products over their entire life-cycle from raw material to disposal. This is to indicate to customers whether the product has been produced in a responsible way.

Published on January 28, 2011

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