By Chris Turner
By investing in family planning we can transform lives, improve health and economic outcomes, and help reduce our impact on the climate, but right now family planning is scarcely part of the conversation, writes Chris Turner, CEO of Marie Stopes International Australia (MSIA).
While politicians deliberate and access to global climate funding becomes increasingly technocratic, it seems the most effective approach to climate change may indeed be one of the simplest.
Since the invention of the contraceptive pill in the 1950’s, access to modern contraception has driven some of the key demographic and social changes in history. It has delivered improved health outcomes for mothers and babies as women are able to wait longer between births or delay having their first child. It created demographic shifts, as populations have fewer dependents and a more productive labour force. It has empowered girls and women to stay in school longer, seek higher education and participate in the formal economy. And now recent research has determined that contraception also has a key role to play in addressing climate change.
As global warming becomes more of a certainty and climate events become more frequent, it can feel overwhelming. It’s predicted that climate change will lead to more extreme weather events and disasters, climate related diseases, food insecurity and instability. Our part of the world is particularly at risk and more people in Asia and the Pacific are affected by climate related events than in any other region in the world – 83 per cent are affected by droughts, 97 per cent are affected by floods and 92 per cent are affected by storms.
In response to this reality, a number of research papers, think tanks and universities have been exploring practical approaches to climate action. Last year, 200 scholars, scientists and thought leaders identified a comprehensive list of solutions with the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere in a book called Project Drawdown. Amongst 100 quantified solutions, family planning and educating girls were ranked as the most effective combined solution to reverse climate change.
As one of the largest global providers of reproductive health services, my team at Marie Stopes International Australia has been exploring this link; how does access to contraception impact on climate change?
Poverty reduction and strengthening economies
When women can exercise reproductive choice, they are more likely to participate in education and the workforce. In most developing countries, female participation in the formal economy has increased as fertility has fallen. Women’s participation in the economy promotes economic growth and economies that are strong are better able to absorb the disturbances of climate change and recover from climate-related events.
Sustainable population growth
Scaling up access to voluntary, high quality sexual and reproductive health services in areas vulnerable to climate change can reduce the pressure that rapid population growth has on the living environment and reduce the harms associated with increasing numbers of people being exposed to climate risks.
Women’s participation and leadership
Women’s participation and leadership is important to climate change preparedness, resilience and action. Enabling women to control their bodies and reproductive health can help create opportunities for women to participate, lead and contribute to the conversation.
As a climate change mitigation strategy, family planning programs are also more cost-effective than other conventional, energy-focused solutions. One study found that $220 billion spent on providing family planning to those with an unmet need would reduce 34 gigatons of global carbon emissions, compared to $1 trillion for a similar outcome if spent on low carbon technologies.
Thankfully these choices aren’t exclusive, but right now family planning is scarcely part of the conversation. More than 100 million women have an identified but unmet need for family planning in Asia. By investing in family planning to reach more of these women, we can transform their lives, improve health and economic outcomes and help to reduce our impact on the climate as well as improve our ability to respond to the coming changes.
There is still much to be done. Click here to read the full paper.
Published on Pro Bono Australia on May 21, 2018
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.