Jacques Véron

tells us about the Expert Group on Population Dynamics and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

INED - Colette Confortès

Jacques Véron is a demographer and research director at INED. He has also served as the Institute’s deputy director and head of international relations. He studies population and sustainable development, particularly in India, as well as the history and epistemology of population science.

(Interview conducted on from December 2012)

You participated in an Expert Group meeting on Population Dynamics and the Post-2015 Development Agenda organized by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) in New York last November 19-20 [2012]. What was the objective of this meeting?

As you know, the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 established a 20-year action program-a program running to 2014. Moreover, several Millennium Development Goals (ODGs) were defined for 2015. It is crucial today to remobilize the international community around the major development issues in connection with the world after 2015. We know that the quantitatively defined millennium goals will not be reached, but that’s no reason give up combating hunger and extreme poverty.

You were active on the French side in preparing negotiations at the 1994 Cairo Conference. In retrospect, how would you assess that experience?

As I see it, Cairo was a great moment in at least two respects. First, the many different aspects of the population-development problematic were handled despite strong disagreements on questions of reproductive health and family models and what family model "diversity" might mean. Second, despite a call to boycott the conference, most of the world’s countries were represented at it. However, the conference raised hopes that were then disappointed. With time it became clear that certain rich countries were reluctant to make development a priority. And now the international community is not showing sufficient concern about major questions like eradicating hunger and extreme poverty.

So a new mobilization at an international scale seems necessary to you?

Yes, because failing to talk about the fundamental questions amounts to thinking of them as secondary. Should the international community accept the fact that nearly a billion people today are living in shanty towns, when we know what this means in terms of health, family, schooling, environmental conditions, etc.?
However, we should also remember that development is a broadly normative concept. Though we have all adopted the term "sustainable development," there are profound disagreements when it comes to arbitrating and establishing priorities. And it is no easy task to promote development, even with the best intentions in the world.
It is not up to us, as demographers, to say what should or should not be done. But we should show how important population dynamics are in connection with development and the environment. We need to show that those dynamics are complex and cannot be reduced to simple, more or less deterministic relations.
The aim of the expert group is to put the "population" variable (in terms of fertility, mortality, ageing, urbanization, international migrations, etc.) back at the center of development issues. The meeting was actually the first in a series of consultations by the various actors specialized in these questions.

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