While the negotiators failed to reach a comprehensive agreement in Copenhagen, the population and reproductive health community might find a silver lining in the stormclouds that derailed COP-15.
Developing countries’ strong protests of their lack of culpability for the climate problem, on one hand, and the dramatic examples of their vulnerability on the other, have focused the world on the problems of poor people—and on potential solutions, including family planning.
The Case of the Missing “P”
The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin complained that population was the “The Missing ‘P’ Word in Climate Talks,” but PAI’s Kathleen Mogelgaard argues in New Security Beat that “there is encouraging evidence that voices of those advocating for increased attention to the role of population and reproductive health and rights in climate change responses are being heard” in Copenhagen, including new funding from the Danish government for family planning.
At a breakfast last week, luminaries including Gro Harlem Brundtland and IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri discussed UNFPA’s latest report, Facing a Changing World: Women, Population and Climate in Copenhagen.
According to lead author Robert Engelman, the report is “helping many more people to see population and climate in a more hopeful light, linked as they are through the right of women to equal standing with men and access to reproductive health care for all.”
Women, Population, and Climate
“Climate change is ultimately about people,” declared Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at the recent Washington, DC, launch of the report. Though the issues are complex and multi-faceted, Engelman said that the report’s message is “stark and optimistic”: that “women in charge of their own lives” can have positive impacts on change climate mitigation and adaptation.
“Women are more sustainable consumers,” said UNFPA’s José Manuel Guzmán at the launch, noting that in many cases women make buying decisions for their families, so empowering them with information and tools is a wise approach to combating climate change.
Women – especially poor women – contribute fewer greenhouse gas emissions than men, yet are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, this fundamental inequality is difficult to quantify, since most data sources are not disaggregated by gender. The report recommends improving data quality to better informing policy decisions.
Tim Wirth, president of the UN Foundation and the Better World Fund, noted that women face a “double whammy”: they are already less likely to go to school and to have access to paying livelihoods, and more likely to have HIV. Climate change will only increase the inequity.
PAI’s Karen Hardee called on the population community to focus their efforts on the next phase of negotiations – adaptation. A recent PAI report found that while 37 of 41 National Adaptation Plans of Action say that population pressures exacerbate the effects of climate change, only six include slowing population growth or addressing reproductive health and family planning as a key priority.
“The focus has been on where and what the impacts of climate change will be,” said Guzman, but the conversation needs to shift to who will be affected, and an analysis of their vulnerabilities and their capacities to adapt.
For real progress to occur, said Engelman, “climate needs to be seen through a more human lens.”