›October 29, 2009 // By Wilson Center Staff“The downward trend, in terms of donor funding for international family planning, since the middle of the 1990s to around 2006 has been reversed,” José Rimon II, senior program officer for global health policy and advocacy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko following a discussion on the future of family planning at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
“There is a lot of scientific evidence that if we don’t revitalize the family planning/ reproductive health agenda, it will be very difficult to achieve the health Millennium Development Goals, especially in the area of reducing maternal mortality,” said Rimon. “Just by addressing the unmet need [for contraceptives] and the unintended pregnancies which result from it, you can reduce maternal mortality by 31 percent.”
Rimon said the Gates Foundation is working closely with donors and partner organizations to exchange information on strategy and funding priorities, which, he says, is “not happening in other issues, but it’s happening in the family planning and reproductive field.”
›October 26, 2009 // By Wilson Center Staff“Climate change is going to have a very large effect on the ability to extract, distribute, [and] refine energy—in every sector,” says Cleo Paskal, associate fellow for the Energy, Environment, and Development Programme at Chatham House. “You’re going to very likely see increasing instability,” she tells ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko in this video interview.
When hydroelectric dams are built, Paskal explains, planners inspect the site to determine the river flow, precipitation levels, and similar measures. But with climate change, “those constants have now all become variables, so your hydro generation is going to be severely affected.”
Last year, India “had an 8 percent decline in the ability to generate hydroelectricity because of changing precipitation patterns. This year…it looks like it’s going to be 12 percent because the monsoon is failing.”
Coastal nuclear power plants will face rising sea levels, increasing storm surges, coastal erosion, while those on rivers will find their supply of cooling water declining and warming. “In the summer of 2003, over a dozen French nuclear plants, because it was so hot, had to power down or shut off,” greatly disrupting the country’s energy supply, Paskal explains. “The predictions are that the temperatures that we saw in 2003 will be a one-in-two year event by 2040.”
Offshore oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are now subject to increasingly strong hurricanes. “Katrina and Rita destroyed over 400 platforms, as well as refining capacity onshore. That creates a global spike in energy prices apart from having to rebuild the infrastructure.”
Meanwhile, offshore rigs in the Niger Delta are vulnerable to sea-level rise and storm surges, while infrastructure built in the Arctic could be at risk as the permafrost continues to melt.
›October 23, 2009 // By Geoff DabelkoThis picture brings the 350 ppm carbon dioxide message to another kind of battlefield. It illustrates the increasing role of the military in bringing non-traditional voices to the political debates over action against climate change. There are plenty of ties, if one scratches the surface and gets into the climate-security field.
The CNA Military Advisory Board, a group of distinguished retired flag officers, has been the most prominent manifestation, but this picture suggests it isn’t just the senior officers with an opinion on climate. President Barack Obama gave a shout out in his MIT speech to Operation Free, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans currently on a bus tour campaigning for energy independence.
Equally important, if not as prominent in this political season, are the present or anticipated impacts of climate on the availability of certain resources (sometimes too much, sometimes too little) and how they might affect economic and political stability. And there are a wide range of reasons for the military to adopt the precautionary principle approach to climate change.
Right now, there is a strong focus on climate-security links in both the research and policy arenas. The challenge is to raise attention, perhaps most productively in a risk framework, without resorting to hyperbole that ultimately produces a backlash.
Photo courtesy of 350.org and Agent Slim. Thanks to Andy Revkin for flagging the picture.
›October 22, 2009 // By Geoff Dabelko“If there are rumors, we should go check them out!” declared Finnish MP Pekka Haavisto about barrels of toxic waste that supposedly washed ashore in Somalia after the 2004 tsunami. I spoke with Haavisto in Helsinki last month as he took a break from marathon budget meetings.
“I think it is possible to send an international scientific assessment team in to take samples and find out whether there are environmental contamination and health threats. Residents of these communities, including the pirate villages, want to know if they are being poisoned, just like any other community would.”
In April this year, Haavisto flew commercial to Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed (who narrowly escaped assasination today), and African Union (AU) peacekeepers. In August Haavisto visited Puntland state to speak with President Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud and other government representatives.
“Parliamentarian” is only one of Haavisto’s jobs. He also works as Finland’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa and, after playing a similar role within the EU as special representative for Sudan. From 1999-2005, he headed the UN Environment Programme’s Disaster and Conflicts Programme (then called the Post-Conflict Assessment Unit), which specializes in objective scientific environmental assessments in war-torn countries.
Haavisto is an enthusiastic advocate for environmental missions that may improve the desperate conditions resulting from violent conflicts. “We should be talking with all the factions,” he told me, to investigate the toxic waste charges. Such a thorough and objective assessment could provide a rare and potentially valuable avenue for addressing underlying suspicions and grievances some Somalis hold against those whom they claim dump waste off shore and overfish their waters.
Using environmental dialogue to build confidence is a top objective of Haavisto’s former colleagues at UNEP—and an idea that is gaining more traction within the wider UN family. For example, UNEP is now working directly with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to provide “green advisors” to their blue helmets, lowering their environmental bootprints and establishing green, self-sufficient bases, including one in Somalia for AU troops.
Assessing the tsunami’s possible toxic legacy in Somalia may provide an avenue for dialogue by addressing first-order concerns for local populations. The dialogue could ultimately support action on front-burner problems outside Somalia, such as piracy, poverty, internal conflict, and terrorism.
Photo: IDPs outside Mogadishu, courtesy of Flickr user Abdurrahman Warsameh and ISN Security Watch.
›October 21, 2009 // By Wilson Center Staff“It’s fairly well known that we’re at a pivotal moment environmentally . . . but I think it’s less well known that we’re also at a pivotal moment demographically,” Laurie Mazur, director of the Population Justice Project, tells ECSP’s Gib Clarke.
“Half the population, some three billion people, are under the age of 25,” Mazur says. “Their choices about childbearing will determine whether world population grows from 6.8 billion to as many as 8 or even almost 11 billion by the middle of the century.”
Mazur’s new book, A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge, launches at the Woodrow Wilson Center on October 27. Mazur will be joined by contributors John Bongaarts of the Population Council, Jacqueline Nolley Echegaray of the Moriah Fund, and Roger-Mark De Souza of the Sierra Club.
“These issues, population growth and the environment, are connected in ways that are very complex,” says Mazur.
“Population growth is not the sole cause of the environmental problems we face today, but it does magnify the impact of unsustainable resource consumption, harmful technologies, and inequitable social arrangements. It’s a piece of the pie. Slowing population growth is part of what we need to do to ensure a sustainable future.”
›Population and climate change get short shrift in the media—that is, until Rush Limbaugh urges you to commit suicide. It’s a disturbing sign that this extremely complex topic only gets play when the knives come out. And as this summer’s health care circus demonstrates, the blogosphere is often more interested in covering the shouting than the issues at hand.
So what happened? At the Wilson Center last week, the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin (via Skype) mentioned a thought experiment he had put forward in a recent post on his blog: “Should you get credit — if we’re going to become carbon-centric — for having a one-child family when you could have had two or three. And obviously it’s just a thought experiment, but it raises some interesting questions about all this.”
Limbaugh, picking up on a post on CNS.com, a conservative online news outlet, said Revkin and “militant environmentalists, these wackos, have so much in common with the jihad guys.” The furor was reported by a number of news blogs, including NYT’s Paul Krugman, the Guardian, and Politico.
An earlier and more substantial account by Miller-McCune’s Emily Badger deftly hits the highlights, including some historical context from The Nation’s Emily Douglas. While earlier projections assumed population growth would decline following the dissemination of birth control in the West, “that assumption turned out to be false,” said Douglas, because women in developing countries have not received similar access to contraceptives.
Indeed, as Worldwatch Institute’s blog post on the event points out, “an estimated 200 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are risking it anyway because they have inadequate access to contraception and related reproductive health services.”
I’m disheartened that this kerfluffle follows a recent uptick in thoughtful coverage of the population-climate connection. At a standing-room-only panel (audio) on covering population and environment at the most recent SEJ conference, Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Wheeler (video) said that population “has those challenges of so, what do you do about it, how do you deal with it.” But he said it was reporters’ “constant challenge to continue to wrestle with these issues.”
Moving the wrestling match into the center ring is bringing a new focus to the debate, which could be useful, as Suzanne Petroni writes in the ECSP Report: “A careful discussion of the ways in which voluntary family planning can further individual rights, community development, and, to some extent, climate change mitigation, could increase awareness not only of the outsized contribution of developed nations to global emissions, but also of their appropriate role in the global community.”
As Revkin says at the end of his response to Limbaugh: “And of course there’s the reality that explosive population growth in certain places, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, could be blunted without a single draconian measure, many experts say, simply by providing access to family planning for millions of women who already want it, but can’t get it – whether or not someone gets a carbon credit in the process.”
Family planning advocates—who have long been wary of linking contraception to climate mitigation—would mostly agree with that statement, although they would phrase it a little differently. Better reproductive health care is “an end in itself,” with climate mitigation being the “side effect,” rather than the primary goal, Barbara Crossette writes in The Nation.
Population experts cautiously agree there is a link, but warn that quantifying it is not so simple. At a major conference of demographers in Marrakesh, researchers previewed forthcoming research described the potential for emissions “savings” brought by decreases in fertility.
In the near term, it doesn’t look likely that all this attention will lead to policy action at Copenhagen. Population Action International reports that while almost all of the least developed countries’ adaptation plans mention population as a factor which increases their vulnerability to climate change, only a few state that investing in family planning should part of their strategy.
I encourage you to watch the webcast of the event and add your own (thoughtful) comments to the dialogue below. No suicide threats, please.
›October 20, 2009 // By Sean Peoples“The landscape has changed since 2007,” says Alexander Carius of the climate change and international security debates now taking place in Europe. In this short video, Carius, who is managing director at Adelphi Research, discusses the progress made by institutionalizing communication within the European Commission as well as the formal and informal channels between the four member states leading the debate, Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Denmark. “Whether this debate is driven by science, I have my doubts,” said Carius.
Even though the climate-security debate is well underway, the current draft resolution for the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen remains silent on the connections between security and climate change. Moreover, there is a lack of consensus among negotiators on basic issues. As December approaches, skepticism of the likelihood of a comprehensive treaty is growing.
›“Covering Climate: What’s Population Got to Do With It?”—webcast live from the Wilson Center—will analyze the challenges facing science and environmental reporters as they prepare to cover what New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin calls “the story of our time.” Cosponsored by the Society of Environmental Journalists and the International Reporting Project, the panel—including Dennis Dimick of National Geographic and the Nation’s Emily Douglas—will discuss the significant barriers to nuanced reporting, including stovepiped beats, the shrinking news hole, and old-fashioned squeamishness.
However, in the past month, there’s been a veritable baby boom of news coverage on climate change and population. Spurred by three high-profile reports—the study commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust, research in the Bulletin of the WHO, and an editorial in the Lancet—the mainstream media and some key bloggers finally got some condoms in their climate change.
It’s gratifying to finally see this issue pop up in the media, almost a year to the day after the 2008 SEJ conference panel on population and climate change moderated by Constance Holden of Science that attracted a respectable (but not remarkable) audience of 40. The panelists decried the media’s relative silence on the impact of population growth and other demographic dynamics on environmental issues.
NPR’s Steve Curwood pointed out that while it’s “something we don’t talk about at all in America,” U.S. population growth increases emissions faster than developing-country population growth, due to our larger per capita consumption. A lone AP article, “Population growth contributes to emissions growth,” reported on the discussion.
In contrast, a population-climate panel at last week’s SEJ conference drew an overflow crowd of more than 100 people. Former SEJ President Tim Wheeler read off recent headlines demonstrating that the media does mention population. However, he noted that “most of the instances I cited are op-ed opinion pieces, not news coverage or feature stories.” In recent climate coverage, he said, “population gets mentioned as an undercurrent and afterthought; our attention intends to be on the immediate. And it has those challenges of so, what do you do about it, how do you deal with it.” But it is “our constant challenge to continue to wrestle with these issues.”
Here’s a short list of recent coverage:
Associated Press: “Birth control could help combat climate change”
Reuters: “Contraception vital in climate change fight -expert”
Bloomberg: “African Condom Shortage Said to Worsen Climate Impact”
Matt Yglesias: “Population and Climate Change”
The Nation: “Factoring People Into Climate Change”
Inter Press Service: “POPULATION: Where’s Family Planning on Climate Change Radar? Zofeen Ebrahim interviews noted social demographer KAREN HARDEE”
The New Republic’s The Vine: “Abortion: The Third Rail of Climate Policy?”
Treehugger.com: Contraception Five Times Less Expensive Than Low-Carbon Technology in Combating Climate Change
Washington Post: “When It Comes to Pollution, Less (Kids) May Be More”
Inter Press Service: “CLIMATE CHANGE: Rising Seas Demand Better Family Planning”
LA Times Booster Shots blog: “Can condoms combat climate change?”
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