Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a major speech Friday to mark the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Her strong message showed top-level US Government support for the ICPD and other such UN goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015. These include achieving universal access to reproductive healthcare (RH) and education (especially for girls), and reductions in maternal and child mortality.
But Secretary Clinton’s address indicated much more – a commitment to women and girls’ health and progress worldwide, which in turn affects development, including climate change. She signaled a critical five-year window by 2015 to not only achieve the ICPD objectives, but also make tremendous gains on global environmental and climate sustainability.
This is because the world’s environment and development issues are inextricably linked so new, strong US commitment to the ICPD’s principles is also critical to achieving environmental sustainability worldwide. Now, changes to global climate, water and forest resources, species’ habitat and biological diversity are all occurring in unprecedented ways from human activities. Strong, clear US leadership to achieve the ICPD goals for women’s equality is one sure way to maintain an important balance between people and nature on our finite planet.
Secretary Clinton paved the way for renewed US leadership on the ICPD for the development reasons mentioned above and as a viable means to achieving environmental sustainability – that is, to help curb climate change, provide clean water to the 1 billion that lack access to it, restore forests as “carbon sinks” and habitat to numerous plants and animals, and begin to alter land use and rapid sprawling development which leads to increased use of fossil fuels and climate change.
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While many international forums have reaffirmed the ICPD "Cairo Consensus", including the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women and the UN Millennium Development Goals, the US has fallen behind in its leadership on these reproductive health issues. Paralleled with this is the lack of strong US leadership on key environmental treaties on climate, water and biodiversity.
But, change is in the air. Secretary Clinton’s compelling support now indicates the US is poised to take a leadership role on critical RH/FP, education and maternal and child health issues. The US needs to show similar leadership on global climate, water, forests and biodiversity issues. When combined, US leadership on the ICPD and major environmental treaties and commitments to sustainability are all mutually reinforcing, representing renewed commitment to these cornerstones of population and development policies for the international community.
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans across the ideological spectrum strongly support the principles in the worldwide consensus reached at the ICPD, including providing voluntary family planning and reproductive health services. Likewise, polls show they support environmental sustainability.
Millions of lives have been improved and saved through effective and affordable reproductive health programs, which have proven to prevent the deaths of women and children, reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, grow economies, and preserve natural resources.
Secretary Clinton provided a much needed boost to a decade’s lag on promoting women’s and girl’s issues as key components of international development and environmental stability. Now let’s join her, and take it down the home stretch to 2015.