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CLIMATE CHANGE: Rising Seas Demand Better Family Planning

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Sep 6 2009 (IPS) - A rising population and climate change need to be considered together in an integrated policy, experts demanded at a forum on sexual and reproductive health and development held in Berlin Sep. 2-4.

Family planning is not at present being considered in the context of climate change, even though national adaptation programmes to climate change of the less developed countries point out the link between population growth and pressure on the environment within the context of climate change.

The governments of the 40 poorest countries have recently linked population growth and environmental catastrophes, but few directly address population growth in their adaptation strategies to climate change.

“Family planning in the developing world remains within its reproductive health sector ‘silo’, and has yet to be addressed on a large scale with the multi-sector approach it both merits and requires,” Leo Bryant, a British activist for sexual education and health at the Marie Stopes International foundation told IPS. Marie Stopes provides family planning, abortion, vasectomy and other reproductive healthcare services around the world.

Since 2004, 41 of the poorest countries have submitted their adaptation plans to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In an analysis of these for the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bryant reviewed 40 of the plans, and found that governments identify population issues as linked directly to climate change.

“Ninety-three percent of the reports refer to ‘rapid population growth’ as a factor aggravating the impact of changing weather conditions, such as vulnerability to flood, drought and decreased crop yield,” Bryant told IPS.

“Many common themes emerge within the reports regarding specific climate change effects,” Bryant says in his report for WHO due to be published next month. “Almost all (38 of 40) identify the risk of increased flooding, while 36 identify longer or more frequent periods of drought. Thirty-three identify reduced crop yield, 35 fresh water scarcity, and 37 discuss threats to biodiversity.”

But only six reports identified rapid population growth as a priority issue to be addressed specifically within the climate strategy.

Developing countries must recognise the “synergies between family planning, sexual education, development, and environmental equilibrium,” said Kulvashi Devi Hurrynag, a women’s rights activist from Mauritius.

Mauritius, an island state off the East African coast, will likely be one of the first victims of climate change due to rising sea levels, said Hurrynag at a workshop on population growth, sexual and reproductive health, and climate change. “We do not want to flee to other regions of the world to escape the consequences of climate change.”

According to UN estimates, the world population will reach 12.5 billion people by 2050 given present trends.

This would bring several billion additional tonnes of carbon emissions, making mitigation of climate change impossible. An increased level of human development spread more evenly across the world would limit population growth, and help limit climate change.

An integrated approach is therefore needed, experts say, linking empowerment of women and better sexual education and health services with sustainable agriculture and strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

“It is clear that the new climate change agreement is also a deal for development,” Helen Clark, administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said at the forum.

There is a “virtuous cycle formed by educating women and families in the developing world on the number of children they actually wish to have, improving the health of women and promoting gender equality, reducing poverty and hunger, and mitigating climate change,” Clark said.

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