Family Planning and Climate Change: An Unappreciated Relationship

A recent article in the Lancet (PDF) highlights the important connections between population growth, economic development, health, and environment and climate change.  They make a convincing argument that sound policies addressing development and climate change should be created with the help of population and development experts, and should consider the influence of population dynamics.

The upcoming 2013 International Conference on Family Planning  (ICFP) will address how to make family planning as integral to development and the post-MDG development agenda. Presenters will focus on bringing family planning to the world’s attention in a broader context, as part of necessary interdisciplinary efforts toward sustainable development.  While some leaders have begun to recognize family planning as key to sustainable development, its importance is still widely unappreciated. The ICFP provides a forum to explain and amplify the importance of family planning to sustainable development.

O’Neill and colleagues (PDF) have shown that the connection between family planning and climate change is larger than some might expect. Meeting the current levels of unmet need for family planning “would reduce current fertility by about 0.2 births per woman in the United States and 0.6-0.7 births per woman in the developing world,” and following this lower population path “could reduce emissions 1.4-2.5 GtC/y by 2050,” or approximately 1-1.5 “stabilization wedges.” (From Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative, the wedges represent a portfolio of mitigation measures designed to keep carbon dioxide emissions flat over the next 50 years.) One wedge is equivalent to eliminating tropical deforestation, or installing 100 times the current capacity of solar electricity.

The ICFP will allow individuals focused on population, health, development, and climate change the opportunity to collaborate on shared goals, if they can only recognize these associations. For productive conversation to happen, academics, private sector companies, non-governmental organizations, and policy makers need to replace the insular discourse confined to their fields with a more inclusive conversation.

O’Neill’s article concludes, “family planning policies would have a substantial environmental cobenefit.” Decreasing unmet need and achieving “Full Access, Full Choice” (the theme of this year’s ICFP) could influence much more than a woman and her family, and ultimately impact the entire world. The ICFP is an important focal point for amplifying the global discussion on family planning, bringing its relation to climate change and development to the attention of leaders around the world, and inspiring its inclusion in related fields.