After last spring’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development, popularly known as Rio+20, the Wilson Center’s Paulo Sotero said there was “a sense of frustration over the lack of new commitments from leading countries and participants.” Where do things stand and where are they headed, in light of these disappointments? Were there any silver linings? [Video Below]
›August 13, 2012 // By Laurie Mazur
June’s Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development left environmentalists little to cheer about. Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, called the meeting “a failure of epic proportions.” And Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin said the conference “may produce one lasting legacy: convincing people it’s not worth holding global summits.”
For those who care about population and sustainability, the meeting was especially disappointing. Despite advocacy efforts by scientists and NGOs from around the world, including a high-profile lead-up report by the UK’s Royal Society, the outcome document failed to recognize the environmental implications of population dynamics and to connect the dots between demography, reproductive health, and sustainable development.
How did this happen? The reasons are many, but here, I’ll focus on one that is fundamental to the global stalemate on environmental issues in general and to population and environment issues in particular: inequality.
Around the world, there is a vast – and widening – gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” A 2008 study by the UN University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research found that the richest one percent of adults now own 40 percent of global assets. The bottom half of humanity, in contrast, owns barely one percent of all wealth.
This appalling gap in wealth is matched by disparities in environmental impact: The relatively affluent citizens of industrialized countries consume a far greater share of the planet’s resources and emit a greater quantity of waste than their counterparts in the developing world. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone on Earth lived the lifestyle of an average American, we would need five planets to support everyone.
These disparities, and the injustice they represent, are a major obstacle to global consensus and action on environmental problems. Take climate change; because industrialized countries have historically contributed the lion’s share of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, those countries lack the moral authority to call for reductions elsewhere. And developing countries, which are struggling to lift their people from abject poverty, reasonably fear that emissions limits will stunt their development.
Georgina Mace on planetary stewardship at Population Under Pressure
Inequality also effectively shuts down discussion of the environmental impact of population growth. It is well established that environmental impact is shaped by a combination of resource use, technology, and population size. The impact of any group of people depends on how they use resources (their systems of production and consumption) and on how many people are doing the producing and consuming.
But, in the context of global inequality, many believe that a focus on population growth is a dodge, a way of shifting attention away from industrialized countries’ supersized consumption habits. As environmental activist and journalist George Monbiot puts it, “population is the issue you blame if you can’t admit to your own impacts: it’s not us consuming, it’s those brown people reproducing.”
All Things Being Equal, Population Matters More
Inequality makes it difficult to address – and even acknowledge – the environmental impact of population growth. But that doesn’t mean that population is irrelevant to sustainability. Indeed, in the more equitable world that many of us would like to inhabit, population dynamics would be more important, not less.
Again, consider climate change. Today, human beings collectively emit more than 30 billion tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide each year. That aggregate figure masks vast disparities in per capita emissions, both between and within countries. Americans are among the highest per-capita emitters on Earth, at about 17 tons per person, per year. Europeans emit about half that and most Indians and sub-Saharan Africans come in at a ton or less. Today, the poorest people in the world make a negligible contribution to climate change.
But let’s imagine a world in which wealth and its attendant environmental impacts are distributed more equitably. Let’s say Americans, through behavior and/or technological change, are able to cut carbon emissions by two-thirds and Europeans cut theirs in half. While we are at it, let’s conjure a massive redistribution of resources and technology, which enables everyone on Earth to converge at an emissions level of five tons per person, per year – about the aggregate level of China today.
Against this backdrop, consider the range of possibilities for future population growth. The UN Population Division predicts that world population will grow from 7 billion today to anywhere between 8 and nearly 11 billion by 2050.
In our equitable world, if world population reaches nine billion (slightly below the UN’s medium variant projection), global carbon dioxide emissions would rise to 45 billion tons of CO2 per year. This would represent a 50 percent increase over our current level. In the equitable world scenario, the difference between a world population of 8 billion and 11 billion would be about 15 billion tons of CO2 per year – half our current emissions and quite possibly the margin between a manageable climate crisis and catastrophe.
In the short term, the difference is less dramatic: by 2025, our equitable world would emit 38 billion tons of carbon a year at the low population variant; 42 tons at the high variant. And, of course, it is in the short term that we must drastically reduce our carbon emissions if we are to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius – the threshold set in the Copenhagen Accord to prevent the most disastrous effects of climate change. But there is a clear divergence between the emissions impact of a slow-growing population and a fast-growing one, which widens over time.
In an equitable world, then, population matters. In fact, the only scenario in which population doesn’t matter (much) is one where the current inequitable divide between rich and poor remains fixed for all time. Fortunately, that scenario is unlikely, because development is proceeding, if haltingly, even in the poorest countries.
The Moral Challenge of Our Time
So, what does this mean for the inequitable world in which we actually live?
First, if we take seriously the twin imperatives of social justice and sustainability, we must address inequality by fostering human and economic development in less developed countries. Of course, that will entail greater resource use in these countries. And, since the planet cannot sustain 7 billion people living as we do in the industrialized world – much less a future population of 8 or 11 billion – it is crucial that we simultaneously reduce resource consumption in the industrialized countries and find ways to meet human needs at less environmental cost. One model is the “safe and just space for humanity,” envisioned by Oxfam International, in which all people have the resources they need to fulfill their human rights, while ensuring that humanity’s collective use of natural resources does not exceed sustainable boundaries.
Finally, we should aim for the lower end of the UN population projections. We can do this by educating girls, empowering women, and ensuring universal access to family planning and reproductive health services. These cost-effective interventions not only slow population growth, but, equally if not more important, they have other enormous benefits for women and families. Moreover, by freeing up resources for productive investment, slower population growth can jumpstart development and help reduce inequality. A wealth of evidence suggests that a world population of 8 billion would be better than 11 billion, for human beings and for the natural systems that sustain all life.
Inequality is the moral challenge of our time; it casts a deep shadow over the global debate on sustainability, obscuring other priorities. In fact, the challenges of inequality, overconsumption, and population growth are all vitally important, and profoundly interconnected. All deserve the most urgent priority if we are to build a world that is sustainable and just.
Laurie Mazur is a consultant on population and the environment for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and a writer and consultant to non-profit organizations. She is the editor, most recently, of A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice and the Environmental Challenge (Island Press, 2009).
Sources: Encyclopedia of Earth, Futures Group, George Monbiot, Global Footprint Network, International Energy Agency, Oxfam, Population Action International, Rolling Stone, TIME, UN Conference on Sustainable Development, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UN Population Division, UN Population Fund, UN University, Washington Post.
›July 13, 2012 // By Sandeep BathalaA month ago this weekend I boarded a plane to Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Over the past few weeks, I have had some time to reflect on the amazing (and exhausting) experience afforded to me. Unfortunately, the final Rio+20 outcome document (considered by some to be misnamed as “The Future We Want”) failed to recognize the connections between reproductive rights and sustainability. However, since I returned I’ve also found myself in conversations with colleagues eager to celebrate the successes of the conference.
Jason Bremner, program director at Population Reference Bureau, reminds me that the initial “zero draft document” that was circulated prior to Rio had absolutely no mention of reproductive health, family planning, or population. “Though the ultimate conference document wasn’t a success by many measures, I commend the efforts of the many advocacy organizations that resulted in the inclusion of reproductive health and family planning as a key aspect of sustainable development,” he said.
Other wins were recognized at Rio as well. On a panel organized by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Brazilian Minister of Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci de Oliveira pointed out that the presence of women this year was much stronger than at the 1992 conference. And she stressed that the overall importance placed on the reduction of poverty will have a big impact for women.
Though the official language was weakened in the final outcome document, there was much more support expressed at side events and off the record conversations. Speaking at the same event as Oliveira, Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation in Denmark, said that “one leader after another has stood up for reproductive rights, and we’ve started a campaign which will go on until ICPD+20.”
In fact, as the Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute Director Paulo Sotero points out, there was a great deal of progress made by non-government representatives alongside the main conference:
I left Rio more hopeful about the future than the official part of Rio+20 would allow. As governments clearly fumbled in the face of the complex challenges of imagining and building a more equitable and sustainable economic growth model in the decades ahead, I saw senior business executives and leaders of civil society engaged in intelligent and productive dialogue about difficult issues at hundreds of thematic panels held at the Corporate Sustainability Forum and other sessions held in Rio.I felt the same energy. And many groups there seemed to already be planning for next steps.
On the first day of side events I attended, members of the Population and Climate Change Alliance discussed strategies to ensure that in the post-2015 (i.e. post-Millennium Development Goals) international development agenda sexual and reproductive health and rights are explicitly recognized as core to sustainable development. The panel included Mialy Andriamahefazafy of Blue Ventures Madagascar, Joan Castro of PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc., and Negash Teklu of PHE Ethiopia Consortium, who all shared examples of efforts in their countries to integrate reproductive health with other sustainable development programs.
Joan Castro on PATH Foundation’s work in the Philippines
The Rio+20 conference was, at the very least, a re-affirmation of the tenets set down by the ‘92 Earth Summit – that is, that there is middle ground between full-tilt economic development and uncompromising environmentalism, called “sustainable development,” and we ought to be moving towards it. It was also a fantastic gathering place for disparate groups of people to come together on to similar issues and to build momentum and networks on their issues.
For those hoping to see a stronger link recognized between reproductive rights, population, and the environment, the good news is that elsewhere, awareness and momentum seems to be growing. Just this week, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation joined the United Kingdom, United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, and Australia to pledge more than $2.6 billion towards meeting global unmet for contraceptives. And the connection to development was explicit: “Contraceptives are one of the best investments a country can make in its future,” reads the summit website.
Coincidence to have followed so closely behind a “disappointing” Rio outcome? Perhaps not.
Sources: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Estado, UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
Photo Credit: “UN Women Leaders Forum at Rio+20,” courtesy of UN Women.
›As reproductive rights advocates reflect on their disappointment with the outcome of last week’s Rio+20 summit, it is encouraging to see that population, health, and environment (PHE) projects – which fundamentally connect women’s health with sustainable development – continue to sprout up around the world. The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) launched their community-supported PHE Project Map in March 2010, and since then, the map has grown to include 76 projects across three continents, and has been viewed more than 82,000 times.
The goal of the map is to show which organizations are doing what PHE work where and when. While the map highlights expected hotspots like Ethiopia, Madagascar, and the Philippines, it also brings into focus countries that may not necessarily come to mind when thinking about PHE – South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam being among them. The map is updated on a rolling basis, and has grown substantially during its first two years.
These numbers should offer encouragement to reproductive rights and sustainable development advocates. Even if world leaders are still struggling to integrate these issues into a global development framework, NGOs, local nonprofits, and development agencies across the world are moving full-speed ahead to improve healthcare, strengthen ecosystems, and empower women and men across Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.
To add a project to the map, contact PRB’s Rachel Yavinksy at email@example.com.
›A new framework for sexual and reproductive health is needed, argued panelists in a recent event at the Wilson Center, and the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development would have been the place to start. An international consensus around women’s human rights was developed at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, but Carmen Barroso, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Western Hemisphere Region, said there has been slow implementation, little funding, and furthermore the world has changed significantly since then.
Barroso was joined by Latanya Mapp Frett, vice president of Planned Parenthood Global, as well as two representatives of Planned Parenthood partner organizations, Marco Cerezo of FUNDAECO and Ben Haggai of Carolina for Kibera.
New challenges to the reproduce rights landscape include the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and decreased funding for international programs. But new opportunities include rapid dissemination provided by the internet and globalization and a subsequent mobilization of youth. “Young people are the largest cohort in history,” Barroso said in an interview with ECSP, both in absolute numbers and in percent of the population. “We have a historical opportunity [to incorporate] them in these decision-making processes.” Additionally, gender and health issues are incresaingly seen by many as linked with the environment and development.
Intersection of Health and the Environment
Marco Cerezo’s FUNDAECO (Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation) is an example of Planned Parenthood’s partnership with other organizations. Based, in rural Guatemala, they shifted from primarily focusing on conservation and sustainable development to incorporating women’s health after finding a vicious cycle of poverty, high fertility, and environmental degradation in the places they worked.
Women’s health was so dire it was holding development back, Cerezo said. “Sustainable community development will not be possible without the education, empowerment, and support to rural women,” they write in their mission statement.
FUNDAECO now acts as a model for the intersection between reproductive health and the environment. Cerezo reported that once women are healthy and empowered through clinics established by FUNDAECO, they become more active in all aspects of the community, including ecological preservation.
Building Healthy Communities
Ben Haggai, who works in Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, further reiterated the need for integrated programs. Carolina for Kibera has a number of programs to improve the quality of life for residents, he said, and has a particular focus on youth with sports associations and education programs.
Youth are the best reproductive health educators, Haggai said, as they are able to talk frankly with their peers. The NGO trains peer youth educators to reach out to community members about reproductive health and other issues like substance abuse. Since the young people work as volunteers, Haggai said, they are motivated only by a desire to improve their communities.
A Natural Intersection
Latanya Mapp Frett agreed that sexual and reproductive health aligns quite naturally with issues of sustainability. “We try to work in the countries overseas in Latin America and Africa where we focus particularly on non-traditional health sectors,” she said in an interview with ECSP following the panel. “One of those sectors is the environment.”
While emphasizing that contraceptive use is a cost-effective way to ensure sustainable development, Mapp Frett cautioned against framing sexual and reproductive health only in the context of reducing fertility. While this may have been common in the past, she noted, it’s important to ensure that women have the right to make childbearing choices for themselves.
Mapp Frett also urged policymakers in the United States to look to developing countries for intersections between development, the environment, and reproductive health. She said that Planned Parenthood’s partner organizations, including FUNDAECO and Carolina for Kibera, have found these connections and successfully partnered with already existing networks like churches to more effectively reach the community.
Translating Into Effective Action
Each member of the panel spoke about the challenge of articulating the need for sexual and reproductive health programs to people outside the field. Barroso mentioned research conducted by Brian O’Neill which found that meeting the current unmet need for contraception would slow population growth enough to reduce emissions by 17 percent.
Cerezo emphasized the importance of consensus among the staff of a given organization, saying it is difficult to make a case to agronomists and farmers if a culture clash exists within the institution. Haggai agreed, adding that focusing on reproductive issues is an important measure of prevention which helps protect both the environment and the health of women in a community.
For Mapp Frett, women’s reproductive and sexual health is indivisible from other aspects of development. “As you talk about sustainable development, you talk about ensuring that women are empowered to make sure that our earth is sustainable,” she said.
The panel took place before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development got underway in Rio. Participants had high hopes for a renewed focus on gender and reproductive rights at the conference. Unfortunately, language on reproductive rights was first weakened and then omitted entirely from the final outcome document (see the account written by ECSP’s Sandeep Bathala at Rio for more on the conference).
While pressure from the Vatican and the G-77 kept reproductive health out of the outcome document, it was not entirely forgotten at the conference. A number of side events highlighted the importance of reproductive rights, especially in the context of the environment and development.
Hillary Clinton also re-affirmed U.S. commitment to access to contraception and reproductive health care. “Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children,” she said at the conference on Friday. “And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.”
Clinton shared the urgency expressed by the panelists at the Wilson Center. “There is just too much at stake, too much still to be done,” she said. “We simply cannot afford to fail.”
Photo Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.
›June 22, 2012 // By Sandeep BathalaAs heads of state get ready to sign on to the outcome document here in Rio, all eyes are on next steps – especially for the reproductive health and integrated development communities, which have seen their hopes of mainstreaming their issues with the sustainable development agenda dashed.
The final outcome document can be found here. USA Today reports that opposition from a group of countries in the 11th hour stripped the text of critical reproductive rights language:
An initial draft of this conference’s outcome document stated, “We are committed to ensure the equal access of women and girls to education, basic services, economic opportunities, and health care services, including addressing women’s sexual and reproductive health and their reproductive rights.”Absent entirely is any explicit connection between reproductive rights, population dynamics, and sustainable development.
In the final draft, the stronger wording “We are committed to ensure the equal access” was switched to the weaker “We are committed to promote equal access.” The reference to reproductive rights was deleted altogether, after opposition from the G-77, a negotiating bloc of developing countries at the United Nations, and the Holy See.
But others, as we have heard repeatedly throughout the conference, insist that gender issues and reproductive rights have a strong and vital connection to sustainable development. Yesterday, USAID, the Aspen Institute, and the Center for Environment and Population held a discussion in the U.S. tent on this very issue, titled “Making Population Matter: The Demographic Dividend and Sustainable Development.”
As Vicky Markham of the Center for Environment and Population reports on RH Reality Check, the side-event aimed to demonstrate the effects of population dynamics, both positive and negative:
We have the largest youth demographic ever in the history of the world, and most developing nations have a “youth bulge.” This can be seen as a challenge, or opportunity, particularly if the focus is on providing development programs for child survival, family planning, reproductive health, and education. The importance of women’s empowerment was also central. But it’s not a given; it’s an opportunity only if we pay attention to these issues to increase the benefits of the “demographic dividend.”The demographic dividend, as described by USAID Deputy Administrator and panelist Donald Steinberg in blog post earlier this week, “is an opportunity that arises when a country transitions from high to low rates of fertility and child and infant mortality.” But it’s not just about ensuring access to family planning and reproductive health; youth-focused economic and education policies are also needed: “Maximizing the dividend requires social and economic policies that reinforce inclusion, equity, and opportunity across the entire population,” he writes. USAID is making a point of creating youth-focused policies for this reason, he said in Rio.
Carmen Barroso, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Western Hemisphere Region, pointed out that Latin American countries could not take advantage of the demographic dividend before recent societal changes occurred, including decreased fertility, increased urbanization (which leads to smaller families), and greater schooling and employment of women.
Seventy percent of world population growth is likely to be generated by Africa this century, said Eliya Msiyaphazi Zulu, executive director of the African Institute for Development Policy – and it is the only continent projected to continue to grow in the next century, he said. He called for redefining growth as more than GDP as that measure does not consider environmental degradation and its costs: “We must have other means to measure development.”
As heads of state and negotiators consider their positions at this conference – which many were hoping would make a much stronger statement – they might do well to ponder today’s comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
While I am very pleased that this year’s outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children. And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.Sources: RH Reality Check, UN, U.S. Department of State, USA Today, USAID.
Now none of this is an abstract discussion. There is just too much at stake, too much still to be done. And many of you visited the U.S. Center here in Rio and saw practical solutions related to some of the work I’ve discussed and other goals we hold in common. We believe solutions require action by all of us. Governments, yes; let’s do our part. Let’s do more than our part.
Photo Credit: YouthPolicy.org.
›June 21, 2012 // By Sandeep BathalaWhile I was visiting with youth peer educators yesterday with the Brazilian Society for Family Welfare in the Cachoeirinha favela (see Vicky Markam’s post for details – we were on the same trip), UN member states reached consensus in the Rio+20 negotiations. But, according to reports, although the outcome document includes some mention of reproductive health, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, it fails to explicitly recognize the link between reproductive rights and sustainable development.
Many women’s rights and health observers have, from the start, encouraged this link.
Karen Newman, speaking to ECSP in April during the Planet Under Pressure conference – a precursor to Rio – said she hoped this week would offer an opportunity to look at “sustainable development in the round” and “re-identify family planning as a core development priority,” given its human rights and health implications and relationship to population growth.
Jenny Shipley (Former Prime Minister of New Zealand) wrote just yesterday on CNN that “we are at a moment in history where we still have time to make a difference. It is essential that the global discussion in Rio not be blind to the potential solutions that access to voluntary family planning could offer to many of the world’s problems.”
“We can no longer afford this outrageous oversight, driven by old-fashioned tradition, discrimination, and pure ignorance,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland (Former Prime Minister of Norway and Former Head of the World Health Organization) at a side event on Monday. “Now is the time to agree to unleash the largest untapped potential for sustainable development and stop all discrimination against women and girls.”
But now that preliminary agreement on the outcome text has been reached, reports have filed in that the connection many were hoping for is absent. Zonibel Woods, blogging on RH Reality Check, wrote:
From the start of the negotiations, gender equality and women’s human rights, including reproductive rights, have continuously been challenged by a few governments, claiming that [these] had “nothing to do with sustainable development.”The lack of consensus among the wider international community may also undercut efforts to highlight reproductive rights in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals/Sustainable Development Goals framework and as governments ready for the follow-on to the International Conference on Population and Development in 2014. A concrete link to “sustainable development,” whatever form that takes, would help ensure that reproductive health is not side-lined.
This debate continued until the last few hours of the negotiations. In the end, the text includes a re-affirmation of both the Cairo and Beijing agreements, but it falls short by failing to recognize that reproductive rights are also critical to the achievement of sustainable development. If a woman cannot decide if and when to have children and if she is not provided with the reproductive health care that is her human right, it is challenging to contribute to sustainable solutions for the planet.
Immediately following the adoption of the text, women gathered and protested at Rio Centro, the main venue for the conference, and advocacy continues.
Heads of state will in all likelihood sign on to the outcome document by tomorrow (it could technically still be changed, but that appears unlikely). I will keep you posted on the final outcome and will be taking notes at a side-event this afternoon by USAID, the Aspen Institute, and Center for Environment and Population on the demographic dividend and sustainable development, which promises to be spirited given today’s news. You can tune in live to the webcast of that event at 2:30 EST on Ustream.
Sources: AllAfrica, Aspen Institute, CNN, IRIN, RH Reality Check, U.S. Department of State, USAID.
Photo Credit: United Nations Photo.
›June 21, 2012 // By ECSP StaffThe original version of this article, by Laurie Goering, appeared on AlertNet.
Rosimere Lopes knows what she does not want in life.
The 23-year-old, who lives in Cachoeirinha, a hillside slum in Rio’s gritty North Zone, was born when her mother was just 16, and grew up taking care of her five younger brothers and sisters while her mother worked.
As a result of missing so much education, she’s still trying to finish high school. But she has accomplished one important thing – she has no children of her own yet, despite having a regular boyfriend.
“My mother got pregnant at 16 so I know the consequences. I don’t want that,” she said. “I want to do better.”
In the last decade, Brazil has undergone a family planning revolution. In 2000, the country’s birthrate was 2.4 children per woman, already dramatically down from decades past. Today it has dropped to 1.9 children, below replacement level and on a par with many developed countries.
That slowdown, built on making available better information and contraceptives, and on growing urbanization, is increasingly looked at as a model by experts around the world trying to find ways to dampen population growth and consumption – both linked to accelerating climate change and resource scarcity.
Continue reading on AlertNet.
Sources: UN Population Division.
Photo Credit: A grandmother, mother, and child in Brasilia, courtesy of flickr user babasteve (Steve Evans).
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