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Taking On Population and Climate Change

Carolyn Vogel

There are many ways to frame the linkages between population and climate change -- and the reproductive health community can make the connection in a way that promotes women's rights and empowerment.

Examining linkages between population and climate change through many different frames leads to important research and policy questions — and it also
allows the reproductive health community to discuss these linkages in a
productive and positive way. If we leave the debate unframed, and the research
questions unanswered, we leave space for harmful discourse and inaccurate facts
to take center stage. The following series of blog posts, written by staff at
Population Action International, will look at population and climate change from
different angles, and provide an initial review of some of the broad frames.

Dr. Karen Hardee raises many of the
difficult ethical issues that arise
when population and climate change are linked. She
examines these linkages from a women’s rights and empowerment frame. She encourages
people, both those comfortable and uncomfortable with the linkage between
population and climate change, to discuss the issue in order to come up
with the best solutions and avoid mistakes of the past.

Dr. Leiwen Jiang approaches
the issue from a demographic perspective
highlighting our need to understand the extent to which increasing population
size, age structure and urbanization affects climate change. Research on
demographic variables and their relationship to climate change show that
population does indeed matter. Moreover, increases in population size, whether
through migration or fertility, in regions vulnerable to the effects of climate
change (such as coastal areas) mean more total people at risk.

There are many questions to explore. Does population growth
in high carbon emitting countries such as the United States matter to climate
change? How do the age structure, migration patterns and urbanization of a
country affect energy consumption? Does demographic change, such as movement
towards a mature age
, increase a society’s resilience to climate change?

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Malea Hoepf Young discusses the
impact of climate change on women
. From a
gender perspective
, women will suffer disproportionately from the effects
of climate change. In their effort to
adapt to severe weather, water scarcity, food insecurity and other consequences
of changes in the climate, women and girls suffer increased workloads and as a
result poor families often pull girls out of school. At home caring for young
children and the elderly, women and girls are much more likely to die in severe
weather events, unable or unaware of where to seek shelter.

While the demographic frame to the issue is still being
explored through research and analysis, the gender frame is an area in which
Population Action International has been able to apply what we know about women
and development to the population and climate debate. For example, we know that
women are powerful agents of change. While they are more vulnerable to the
negative effects of climate change, they are also better positioned to help
communities adapt to these changes.

There is very little research on what development activities
will most contribute to increasing people’s resilience to the adverse impacts
of climate change. However, we know that family planning is critical to the
health and well-being of a family — including their economic stability. Therefore,
family planning could also be an important contributor to resilience.

At the family level, the benefits of family planning on
health and economic well-being are well documented. Is a woman who can time and
space her childbearing better able, through better health and opportunity, to
adapt to negative effects wrought by climate change? Smaller families tend to
be healthier families, and women who use family planning have greater economic
opportunities, increased control over all aspects of their lives and are thus likely
to be more resilient to environmental, economic and human health challenges.

Will meeting women’s expressed need for good reproductive
health care better enable them to participate in the stewardship
of the environment and improved agricultural production

Slowing population growth through voluntary family planning
and reproductive health programs is an essential part of long-term efforts to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as an important component of programs
that aim to help vulnerable communities to adapt to climate change. It is also
a cost-effective way to improve the health and well-being of individuals around
the world. Couples deserve universal access to family planning and reproductive
, provided in a way that respects their rights to determine
how many children they have and when. That will help people and
countries and, hopefully, the planet.