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HALTING population growth in developing countries should be part of a global strategy to reduce mankind's impact on the environment, according to an eminent expatriate Australian scientist.

Immediate past president of the Royal Society, Professor Lord Robert May said that, given the threat of climate change, a declining global population was ''a prerequisite'' if humanity was to achieve a sustainable ecological footprint in the future.

Addressing the Lowy Institute in Sydney last night, Lord May said a priority was educating and empowering women, ''particularly in those cultures where this is not currently the case''.

Lord May, a former chief scientific adviser to the British government who was made a companion of the Order of Australia in 1998, said this would be assisted by achieving universal primary school education and promoting gender equality.

The United Nations estimates 700 million women, or two thirds of all those married or in stable unions, use some method of contraception.