Over 2,100 participants attended the 2012 Population Association of America
(PAA) annual meeting in San Francisco this May. PAA was established in 1930 to research issues related to human population. This year, for the first time, the meeting featured a notable contingent of demographers, sociologists, and public health professionals working on environmental connections.
I followed as many of the environment-population discussions on newly published or prospective research papers as possible (about 20 in total). I found four papers particularly noteworthy for the connections made to women, family planning, and climate change adaptation.
Samuel Codjoe of the University of Ghana spoke about adaptation to climate extremes in the Afram Plains during one of the population, health, and environment (PHE) panels organized by Population Action International. Although developed nations are historically the major contributors of greenhouse gases due to comparatively high levels of consumptions, developing countries are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change – in part because of continued population growth. As a result, adaptation strategies in countries like Ghana are particularly important; and given women’s often-outsized role in water and natural resource issues, a focus on gender-specific adaptation even more so.
Codjoe presented an analysis of preferred adaptation strategies to flood and drought, broken down by gender and three common occupations – farming, fishing, and charcoal production). He said he hopes his assessment – part of a collaborative research effort with Lucy K.A. Adzoyi-Atidoh of Lincoln University – will aid in the selection and implementation of successful adaptation options for communities and households in the future.
“Understanding differences in the priorities that women place on adaptation may prove to be important in the effectiveness of climate change adaptation – and the sustainability of communities,” he said.
David López-Carr of the University of California, Santa Barbara, speaking on behalf of a group of researchers with World Wildlife Fund, teased out the gender dynamic further when he presented on ways to help the conservation sector determine next steps for existing PHE projects. Practitioners from seven of the eight PHE projects currently implemented by conservation organizations (defined by having been involved for at least three years in bringing family planning to local communities) recently said the links to women’s empowerment were among the most important aspects of successful projects.
López-Carr therefore emphasized the need for additional research on how PHE projects can support and empower women, both economically and socially. He also noted, like Codjoe, the potential impact women often have on the management of their community’s natural resources, saying this was another area where research on the empowering effect of PHE programs can provide further backing for integrated programs.
Karen Hardee of Futures Group spoke about how the experiences of integrated PHE projects, despite most not being designed to respond to climate change specifically, have lessons to offer climate change efforts. Her work was done in partnership with the Population Reference Bureau, Population Action International, and U.S. Agency for International Development. She concluded that community-based adaptation approaches should consider population dynamics in vulnerability assessments. Meeting unmet need for family planning, she said, can assist communities adapting to climate change by building resilience. And as result, “PHE approaches should be able to qualify for funding under community-based adaptation programs.”
Shah Md. Atiqul Haq of the City University of Hong Kong presented research he conducted in Bangladesh that found that women tended to feel that a large family size was not advantageous during floods. This, he said, was indicative of their increased understanding of vulnerability and an endorsement of providing knowledge and access to family planning services as part of climate change adaptation strategies.
The inclusion of more environment, and particularly PHE, related presentations at this year’s conference was good to see – perhaps a sign that demography is becoming a more complex and comprehensive field, with a focus more on population structure and its interactions with other issues, rather than a singular fascination with growth.
In particular, panelists showed that the nexus between demography, gender equity, and climate change continues to grow in importance, both in the research and practitioner communities.
Photo Credit: Tribal women and children in Kerala state, India, courtesy of flickr user Eileen Delhi.