Population Matters

Population Matters
Founded 1991 (1991)
Founder David Willey
Type Environmental charity
Sustainability organisation
Think tank
Advocacy group
Focus Promotion of smaller families,[1] and sustainable consumption.[2]
Method Research, education, campaigning and lobbying
Key people
Chair, Andrew Macnaughton
Website populationmatters.org
Formerly called
Optimum Population Trust

Population Matters, formerly known as the Optimum Population Trust, is a UK-based charity that addresses population size and its effects on environmental sustainability. It considers population growth as a major contributor to environmental degradation, resource depletion, conflict and involuntary migration and societal problems such as housing scarcity and transport congestion.

History and background

Population Matters was launched as the Optimum Population Trust following a meeting on 24 July 1991 by the late David Willey and others concerned about population numbers and sustainability. They were impelled to act by the failure of United Kingdom governments to respond to a series of recommendations regarding population growth and sustainability.[3]

The Optimum Population Trust prepared analyses and lobbied on issues affected by population growth. It also lobbied developmental and environmental campaigners on the need to incorporate population issues in their thinking. It was granted charitable status on 9 May 2006.[4] Population Matters was adopted as its campaign name in 2011.[5]

Views and aims

Population Matters aims to achieve a future with decent living standards for all, a healthy and biodiverse environment and a sustainable population size.[6] The charity holds the following policy positions:


Population growth increases damage to the environment and depletes natural resources. Therefore, human numbers should be reduced voluntarily to a sustainable level that enables an acceptable quality of life for all.

  • Given that human activity already exceeds Earth’s capacity to support it, Population Matters argues that population stabilisation should be strived for without delay.[7]
  • The United Nations projects that global population size could grow by 2.5 billion between 2015 and 2050, which illustrates the urgency of the matter further according to the organisation.[8]

Development and climate change

Population growth increases the number of wealthy carbon emitters and poorer climate change victims and hampers mitigation and adaptation efforts. In 2016, humanity used the sustainable resource output of 1.6 Earths.[9]

  • Evidence has been presented that less equal affluent countries consume more resources and generate more waste than other affluent countries.[10]Consequently, Population Matters supports greater income equality.
  • Developed countries are responsible for the majority of resource consumption as well as the associated global environmental degradation. Therefore, the developed world has a responsibility to support developing nations according to the organisation.[11]
  • Population Matters supports the concept of Contraction and Convergence as conceived by the Global Commons Institute.[12]

Women’s rights and reproductive health

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential for reproductive health, economic development and population stabilisation. Population Matters therefore supports programmes to improve the status of women.

  • Population Matters embraces the Sustainable Development Goals that see women’s empowerment as a necessary condition for sustainable development.[13]
  • Comparisons made between developing nations that experienced rapid fertility decline and those that did not found that high fertility increases absolute levels of poverty by slowing economic growth and worsening the distribution of additionally acquired resources.[14] Consequently, the organisation promotes policies improving access to contraceptives.


Migration often results from conflict, poverty, inequality or population and consumption pressures. Population Matters calls for fair trade terms and increased foreign aid and knowledge transfer to promote sustainable development, global justice and resilience.

  • Population Matters believes that the only just and long-term solution to migration pressure is to address its underlying causes in the countries of origin, such as poverty, lack or over exploitation of resources, climate change and conflict.[15]
  • The organisation believes that developed countries have a moral responsibility to help with this because they contribute to migratory pressures by being both major consumers of resources from developing countries and are the principal source of the causes of climate change.[16]

Ageing and parenthood

  • Population Matters rejects the case that more young people are required to care for an increasing number of elderly. It believes that governments should promote responsible parenthood and limit subsidies to the first two children unless a family is living in poverty.
  • Population Matters promotes the idea that society should deal with ageing by enabling employment for untrained, underemployed and older people and by optimising the use of technology.[17][18]


Population Matters campaigns to stabilise population at a sustainable level through encouraging a culture shift towards smaller family sizes worldwide and improving resources for women's empowerment and family planning in lower income countries.[19][20] Over the years, the organization has supported various campaigns, including Caroline Lucas’ Bill to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) a statutory requirement in state-funded schools.[21] It also produces material to help its supporters raise awareness of population growth.[22]

The charity also runs Empower to Plan, a crowdfunding project that offers members of the public the opportunity to donate directly towards family planning and women's empowerment projects around the world.[23]

Other activities include the Population Matters Overshoot Index, which presents assessments of the extent to which countries and regions of the world are considered to be able to support themselves on the basis of their own renewable resources. It also produces short films, such as “Zombie Overpopulation”.[24][25]

Organisational structure

Population Matters consists of patrons, an advisory council, a board, a team of staff/contractors and volunteers and members. It relies on members and donors for its funding.[26]


Population Matters' patrons include prominent and successful public figures such as the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, the economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, the biologist Professor Paul Ehrlich, the primatologist Dr Jane Goodall and Professor John Guillebaud.[27]


In 2013, Population Matters was criticised for advocating that Syrian refugees should not be accommodated in the UK,[28] calling for “zero-net migration” to the UK and for supporting a UK government policy of stopping child benefit and tax credits for third and subsequent children.[28] In 2017, the organisation stopped advocating for these policies, replacing them with a call for a Sustainable Population Policy.[29]

See also


  1. "Smaller families". populationmatters.org.
  2. "Consume mindfully". populationmatters.org.
  3. "People & story - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  4. "Charity overview". Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  5. "UK Web Archive". www.webarchive.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  6. "Vision & values - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  7. "Living Planet Report 2014". wwf.panda.org. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  8. "World Population Prospects The 2015 Revision" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  9. "World Footprint". Global Footprint Network. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  10. "Inequality and Environmental Sustainability" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  11. "The State of Consumption Today | Worldwatch Institute". www.worldwatch.org. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  12. "Contraction and Convergence Homepage". www.gci.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  13. "Women's Empowerment". UNDP. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  14. "Population and Poverty: New Views on an Old Controversy". Guttmacher Institute. 2005-02-02. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  15. "Conflict & migration - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  16. Clark, Duncan (2011-04-21). "Which nations are most responsible for climate change?". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  17. Valenzuela, Dr Rebecca (2015-03-23). "The economics of an ageing population". The Age. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  18. "Managing an ageing society" (PDF). Population Matters. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  19. "Central London Humanists". Meetup. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  20. Martin, Roger (2011-10-23). "Why current population growth is costing us the Earth | Roger Martin". the Guardian. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  21. "PSHE briefing for MPs | Caroline Lucas". www.carolinelucas.com. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  22. "London's population to grow by a quarter - Population Matters". Population Matters. 2016-05-25. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  23. "Empower to Plan". Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  24. "Population Matters — Media Trust". www.mediatrust.org. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  25. "Overshoot Index" (PDF). Population Matters. 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  26. "People & story - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  27. "Patrons - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 2016-06-09.
  28. 1 2 "The charity which campaigned to ban Syrian refugees from Britain". openDemocracy. 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2016-06-09.
  29. "Sustainable population policy - Population Matters". Retrieved 13 November 2017.

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