Population Matters

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 climate change, environmental degradation, and resource depletion[3][4]. The group promotes ethical, choice-based solutions through lobbying, campaigning and awareness-raising.[5]

Population Matters
Founded1991 (1991)
FounderDavid Willey
FocusPromotion of smaller families[1] and sustainable consumption[2]
MethodCampaigning, education, lobbying and research
Key people
Formerly called
Optimum Population Trust

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 population growth and threats to sustainability.

The Optimum Population Trust prepared analyses and lobbied on issues affected by population growth. It was granted charitable status on 9 May 2006.[6] Population Matters was adopted as its campaign name in 2011.[7]

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.[8] The charity holds the following policy positions:


Population growth increases damage to the environment and depletes natural resources.[3][4] Therefore, human numbers should be reduced voluntarily to a sustainable level that enables an acceptable quality of life for all.

  • Given that the Earth cannot sustain current levels of human activity,[9] Population Matters argues that population stabilisation should be a priority.
  • The United Nations projects that global population size will reach 9.8 billion in the year 2050 and 11.2 in 2100,[10] which illustrates the urgency of the matter according to the organisation.

Development and climate change

Population growth increases the number of wealthy carbon emitters as well as the number of people threatened by climate change. In 2018, humanity used the sustainable resource output of 1.7 Earths.[11]

  • A study of affluent countries has shown that the countries with more equality of income (e.g. Japan) consume less resources and generate less waste than the ones with less income equality (e.g. the US).[12] Consequently, Population Matters supports greater equality of income.
  • 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.[13]
  • Population Matters supports the concept of Contraction and Convergence as conceived by the Global Commons Institute.[14]

Women's rights and reproductive health

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential for reproductive health, economic development and population stabilisation. The United Nations state "In fact, reproductive rights are integral to realizing all the Sustainable Development Goals."[15] 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.[16]
  • 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.[17] 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.[18]
  • The organisation believes that developed countries have a moral responsibility to help with this because they contribute to migratory pressures (as major consumers of resources from developing countries) and are the predominant cause of climate change.[19]

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.[20][21]


The organisation 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.[22][23] 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.[24] It also informs the public via the media and produces material to help its supporters raise awareness of population growth.[25] Finally, the charity researches headlines and assumptions to examine the issues in depth, for example, analyzing the latest United Nations' statistics, or exploring the impacts of UK population growth on biodiversity.[26] The research is published in their Journal of Population and Sustainability.

The charity 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.[27] This project superseded the carbon offsetting project called PopOffsets.

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 commissions educational videos, such as "Zombie Overpopulation".[28][29]

Organisational structure

Population Matters consists of patrons, an advisory council, a board, a team of staff/contractors and volunteers and members.[30] It relies on members and donors for its funding.[31]


Population Matters' patrons include prominent and successful public figures such as the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, Jonathon Porritt, the economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, the biologist Professor Paul Ehrlich, the primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, Professor John Guillebaud and Leilani Münter.[32]

American journalist and author Lionel Shriver is a patron of Population Matters as well.[33]


In 2013, Population Matters was criticised for disagreeing with an Amnesty International call on the UK and other EU countries to "significantly increase the number of resettlement and humanitarian admission places for refugees from Syria" while saying that these "countries should continue to support migrants from the Syrian civil war and other conflicts in the countries adjacent to those conflicts",[34] calling for numerically balanced or "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.[34] In 2017, the organisation stopped advocating for these policies, replacing them with a call for a Sustainable Population Policy.[35]

See also


  1. "Smaller families". populationmatters.org.
  2. "Consume mindfully". populationmatters.org.
  3. "Does Population Growth Impact Climate Change?". Scientific American. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  4. "Climate change and population growth are making the world's water woes more urgent". The Economist. 28 February 2019. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  5. "Solutions". Population Matters | Sustainable World Population | Every Choice Counts. 11 September 2018. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  6. "Charity framework". Charity Commission. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  7. "Governance". Population Matters. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  8. "Vision & values - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  9. "Living Planet Report 2018". wwf.panda.org. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  10. "World Population Prospects 2017 (Key findings)" (PDF).
  11. "World Footprint". Global Footprint Network. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  12. "Inequality and Environmental Sustainability" (PDF). United Nations. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  13. "The State of Consumption Today". Worldwatch Institute. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  14. "Contraction and Convergence Homepage". Global Commons Institute. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  15. "See how the power of choice can change the world". UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  16. "Gender equality". UNDP. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  17. "Population and Poverty: New Views on an Old Controversy". Guttmacher Institute. 2 February 2005. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  18. "Making migration safe". Population Matters. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  19. Clark, Duncan (21 April 2011). "Which nations are most responsible for climate change?". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  20. Valenzuela, Dr Rebecca (23 March 2015). "The economics of an ageing population". The Age. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  21. "Managing an ageing society". Population Matters. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  22. "Central London Humanists". Meetup. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  23. Martin, Roger (23 October 2011). "Why current population growth is costing us the Earth". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  24. Lucas, Caroline. "PSHE briefing for MPs". Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  25. "London's population to grow by a quarter". Population Matters. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  26. "Campaigns". Population Matters. Retrieved 25 April 2019.
  27. "Empower to Plan". Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  28. "Population Matters". Media Trust. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  29. "Overshoot Index" (PDF). Population Matters. 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
  30. "Our team - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  31. "Governance". Population Matters. 13 September 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  32. "Patrons - Population Matters". Population Matters. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  33. "Population Matters welcomes Lionel Shriver". populationmatters.org.
  34. "The charity which campaigned to ban Syrian refugees from Britain". openDemocracy. 23 September 2015. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  35. "Sustainable population policy". Population Matters. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
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