Jacques Véron

tells us about the upcoming World Population Day and the Millennium Development Goals

© Raphaël Debengy

In anticipation of World Population Day (11 July), we turn to the demographer Jacques Véron, research director, former INED deputy director, and a regular participant at the annual meetings of the United Nations’ Commission on Population. After working 20 years ago on the preparations and negotiations leading up to the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, he is now part of discussions on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda.

(Interview conducted in July 2014)

The theme of this year’s World Population Day is investing in young people in connection with the Millennium Goals. Why is this important?

Much is at stake in refocusing on young people and what may matter to them. This theme was somewhat left aside because everything was centred on demographic ageing, a phenomenon affecting developed countries first and foremost. The fact is that demographic growth, particularly in Africa, is resulting in considerable annual increases in the number of young people, young people in turn often jobless, living in precarious situations, whose family ties may deteriorate because they are forced to live with their parents until relatively late in life, and even break altogether when they emigrate to find work. The absence of prospects is a source of intense frustration.

This year is also the deadline for the 20-year action programme adopted at the Cairo Conference in 1994. How would you assess the progress made on that programme?

The Cairo Conference was a significant event that made it possible to widen our vision of the ties between population and development. But 20 years later, this past spring, at the annual meeting of the UN’s Commission on Population to assess that conference, I was struck by how the development dimension has completely disappeared. The word "environment" was hardly spoken, except by small countries in the Pacific threatened by global warming.
Countries still tend to perceive population questions primarily from the perspective of reproductive health, and this a source of ideological clashes. On the other hand, those countries are less engaged on development questions than before. Everyone agrees with the principle, but implementation remains difficult because having a wider vision of development issues presupposes taking account of complex interactions and acting for the long term.
But in analysing the situation 20 years after the Cairo Conference, we also have to remember that in the interim, the world’s population has risen from 5.7 to 7.2 billion people. Despite this heavy demographic constraint, significant progress has been made in the area of health.

In one year the deadline for reaching the MDGs will have expired. What are some post-2015 prospects?

During the Millennium Summit in New York, in September 2000, eight goals were set , most of them quantitative. Some-regarding housing and access to drinking water¬, for example-will have been reached, others will not. But the programme will nonetheless have enabled some progress to be made-substantial progress in the case of child and maternal mortality. However, there are still points of resistance on the issue of equality of the sexes.
The philosophy guiding our preparation of post-2015 is quite different: there are more goals, covering a greater variety of areas. For 2030 we are currently formulating 17 sustainable development goals on a relatively broad range of themes: water, inequalities, sustainable industrialization, sustainable cities, climate change, to name a few. A return to a broader understanding of development can be discerned.
The question of development is also being redefined by intermediate actors, such as cities. Cities are directly faced with problem management, and they have acquired a new status through city groupings. Cities may come to play a major role. Chicago, for example, is currently developing its own environmental policy, whereas the United States does not seem particularly preoccupied with those issues at the federal level. The emergence of these new actors is a very positive development.

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