UNFPA: Preparing the world for important population changes

April 2, 2015


Ahead of the 28th session of the UN Commission on Population and Development taking place this month, a UNFPA article explores some key demographic changes that should be understood and accounted for in the post-2015 international development agenda.


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Credit: UN Photo/M. Guthrie

Sustainable development agenda

In 2015, the world will adopt a new set of goals, guiding the efforts to achieve a more sustainable and fairer world where no-one is left behind. In designing and implementing the post-2015 agenda, it is important to understand and account for demographic changes that are likely to unfold in the future. 

On 13-17 April, the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development will take place with the task of identifying a set of key actions that will enable population issues to be integrated into this new sustainable development agenda.

Over the next fifteen years, the world population is expected to increase by 1.1 billion so that by 2030, the global economy will need to support approximately 8.4 billion people.

“Globally, two billion babies will be born, each requiring health care services. More than two billion children will reach school age, each needing access to high quality education,” explained Mr. John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division.

Large regional variations

These large scale population dynamics mask large regional variations. While almost all regions are projected to grow by at least 10 percent over the next 15 years, Africa will account for more than 40 per cent of the global increase in population, while Europe can expect a slight decrease in population.

In addition, the world’s different regions have varying capabilities in managing an increasing population. An increasing number of births pose particularly significant challenges for low-income countries where poverty and malnutrition rates are already high, levels of education low, healthcare systems weak and where the rates of infant and child mortality are high. In addition, two billion children will turn age 5 and will require access to education.

Preparing education and jobs for growing youth population

Beyond all the two billion newborns who will see the light of day during the coming fifteen years, and the two billion children who will turn five, more than 1.2 billion young people will transit into adulthood and begin looking for a job. Most of the increase is concentrated in African countries such as Burundi, Mali, and Niger. However, there are also large regional differences, for example in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of young people will decline, in some cases significantly.

A growing young generation presents a major promise for economic development, technological innovation and social change. At the same time, it can also pose possible challenges when it comes to for example adolescent pregnancies, drug abuse, school dropouts and trafficking. What determines the outcome is often the opportunities that have been offered to these children in the younger age, in the form of education and skills training that makes them competitive in today’s global marketplace.

Taking care of an ageing population

Rapid growth in the number of older persons is expected over the next fifteen years across all areas of the world. Nearly half of all the older persons do not receive any form of pension and for many who do, the level of support is inadequate. In several high-income countries, benefit levels have been reduced.

“One thing that all countries have in common is the need to plan for population ageing. People aged sixty and older are now the world fastest growing age group,” Mr. Wilmoth explained.

Urban areas continue to grow

“Through a deeper understanding of how the world is changing, combined with better planning, stronger partnerships, and greater political will, we can create a better tomorrow for both people and planet”, Mr Wilmoth explained. 

The 1.1 billion increase in global population over the next fifteen years is expected to occur in urban areas. Africa and Asia are projected to have the largest increases in urban populations so that the number of urban areas, as well as their absolute size will continue to grow.

While the growth of already very big cities poses risks, as uncontrolled expansion of urban areas, environmental degradation and heightened risk for natural hazards such as floods and landslides, the density of population also opens up the possibility for lower costs per capita in providing infrastructure and basic services.

“[Ongoing poplation change] puts [cities] on the front line when it comes to eliminating poverty, reducing pollution, and ensuring access to safe water and essential services,” explained Mr. Wilmoth. “Governments must ensure that urban expansion takes place in a sustainable and inclusive manner.”

Commission on Population and Development convenes for 48th session

The world will need to confront many major challenges in the years ahead if it is to achieve sustainable development in the social, economic and environmental spheres. Through motivated and proactive work, like the upcoming Commission on Population and Development, the possibility of achieving these goals has never been greater.

“Through a deeper understanding of how the world is changing, combined with better planning, stronger partnerships, and greater political will, we can create a better tomorrow for both people and planet,” said Mr. Wilmoth, as his division continues to prepare for the upcoming commission taking place at UN Headquarters in New York.

For more information: 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development

This article, published by UN News, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

PSN and PSDA give evidence at UK parliamentary hearings ‘Population Dynamics in the Post-2015 World’

March 12, 2015


PSN’s Coordinator, Karen Newman, and Policy and Advocacy Manager, Sarah Fisher, gave a presentation this week at the UK Houses of Parliament, providing evidence on the linkages between population dynamics, reproductive health and sustainable development.


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Credit: Peter Morgan via Flickr

Looking to the future

“Population dynamics set the scale and scope of the development challenges we face” was the top line message from PSN and the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA) at the parliamentary hearings held by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Population, Development and Reproductive health.

In light of the upcoming announcement of a Post-2015 international development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals in September this year, the hearings are being held to collect evidence, recommendations and policy suggestions on population dynamics in the Post-2015 world.

Following the joint submission by PSN and the PSDA in December 2014, PSN (also representing PSDA) was invited to give oral evidence, in the form of a presentation and questions, to a panel consisting of MPs, peers and APPG staff.

PSN joined the Royal Society and the International Institute for Environment and Development to give evidence at the session which took place at the House of Commons on Monday.

Making the links

Karen gave a summary of the joint submission which advocated the importance of a focus on population dynamics and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the Post-2015 framework and explored the links between these issues with a particular focus on urbanisation, migration, climate change and conflict.

Case studies were presented from the written evidence of integrated Population Health Environment (PHE) Programmes by PSDA members Blue Ventures and LEAD SEA. Community-based projects by these organisations in Madagascar and Malawi, respectively, illustrate the inter-relationships between population growth, migration, unmet need for reproductive health services, climate change vulnerability and other sustainable development issues, and offer models for addressing these issues more holistically and effectively.

Key recommendations made to the panel for the UK government to champion included:

  • Encouragement of nuanced and sensitive dialogue on population and SRHR issues, including recognition of the moral imperative to address unsustainable and inequitable consumption patterns
  • Promotion of integrated PHE approaches
  • Use of demographic data for future development planning, including investments in research and capacity building for better data collection and use
  • Ensuring that migrants and other vulnerable groups have full access to health services
  • Taking into consideration the implications of population trends for demand for and access to SRHR services.

“Young people are the most likely to be attracted to urban areas for work and education etc., however they are the least likely to be provided with appropriate SRHR services”, explained Karen, “it is imperative young people’s needs are met and planned for”.

Pressing questions for Post-2015

Presentations for the civil society presenters were followed by a number of questions from the APPG panel which included Sir Richard Ottaway MP, Baroness Jenny Tonge, Baroness Anne Jenkin and Mette Kjaerby and Benjamin Hunter of the APPG staff.

There was great interest in the exact linkages between population growth and climate change, and the relationship between economic development, urbanisation and climate change.

With reference to population and climate change linkages, PSN highlighted the important distinction between climate change mitigation and adaptation.

PSN also noted that the relationship between population growth and climate change is complex, not in the least due to vast differences in per capita consumption rates between the world’s wealthiest and poorest countries and groups. However, the role that population growth and unmet need for family planning services play in exacerbating vulnerability to climate change in the world’s poorest countries is more straight forward and must not be underestimated.

Karen referred to a research paper by PSN which analysed reports prepared by the least-developed countries outlining localised vulnerabilities to climate change and priorities for action. Ninety-three per cent of the reports identify population growth and high population density as factors that make climate impacts harder, including through pressure on water and land availability, deforestation and soil degradation.

On urbanisation and climate change linkages, “Urban populations do not necessarily have a higher carbon footprint” explained Sarah, “rural populations in some developed countries for example are more likely to drive rather than take public transport, which highlights the importance of effective urban planning to take advantage of potential opportunities associated with economies of scale.”

There was agreement from all the civil society panellists that new development paradigms are needed, both in relation to effective and sustainable urban planning and overall development models that go beyond GDP to include alternative measures of development and well-being and de-couple economic growth including those relating to the environment. It was noted that whilst a great deal of technological innovations and solutions are available to make necessary changes, often it is a lack of political will and other factors that undermine progress.

The APPG is set to release a report in the coming months based on the submissions received and evidence provided in the hearings.

Read PSN and PSDA’s joint submission

Iran birth drive 'turns women into baby-making machines'

March 12, 2015


Draft laws aimed at boosting the birth rate in Iran reduce women to "baby-making machines", the rights group Amnesty International warns in a new report.


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Credit: Hamed Masoumi via Flickr

Dangerous plan to roll back women’s rights

new report from Amnesty International warns that draft laws proposed by Iran’s Parliament will undermine women’s access to contraception and threaten to send Iran back several decades to a precarious time for women and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights. 

One proposal outlaws voluntary sterilisation and promoting birth control, while another makes it harder for women without babies to get jobs.

Amnesty says the two laws would set women's rights in Iran back by decades.

Until recently, Iran had been trying to restrict the country's population, with contraception subsidised by the state.

Amnesty warns that banning voluntary sterilisation and blocking access to information about contraception risks greater numbers of unwanted pregnancies, forcing women into unsafe abortions.

The other bill cited by the organisation would make it more difficult for women to seek divorce, and instructs employers to prioritise married women with children.

"The authorities are promoting a dangerous culture in which women are stripped of key rights and viewed as baby-making machines," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International.

"Instead of adding to the catalogue of discrimination Iranian women face, the authorities must recognise that women are human beings with fundamental rights, and rescind such discriminatory laws."

This article, published by BBC News, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Food security and water scarcity must be discussed at the UN climate summit in Paris

March 2, 2015

SOURCE: The Guardian

World leaders are due to meet in Paris in December for the UN climate change summit. This article featured in the Guardian discusses why food security and water scarcity should be on the agenda.



Credit: Allison Kwesell/World Bank via Flickr

Climate change is increasing food and water insecurity

By the time nations once again get round a table in Paris in December to discuss climate change, hunger should be on the menu.

Researchers have calculated that average yields of wheat per field, which only two decades ago were rising rapidly, are now down, and barley by 3.8%.

In each case, the scientists identify climate change as a contributing factor. Global warming has barely begun but climate scientists have been warning about the consequences for food security for 30 years.

The two latest bits of research into wheat yields are not isolated indicators of tomorrow’s troubles. The big heat has yet to arrive. It will be catastrophic.

Another group has studied the consequences for harvests of extremes of heat and calculated that for each 1C notch in the thermometer, global wheat yields could fall by 6%.

Some latitudes will benefit, but overall, world harvests could fall. This is very bad news: wheat is one of the world’s staples, and the world’s largest source of vegetable protein. There are other factors at play in the fields. Within a decade, 2.9 billion people in 48 nations will experience chronic water scarcity, another research team warns.

Population increase will put pressure on land and resources

Agriculture consumes 70% of the world water supplies and action is needed “to pre-empt looming conflicts born of desperation”. Separately, US geologists have used historical analyses to work out what modern agriculture does to topsoil. When European settlers took the plough to the American heartlands, erosion accelerated one hundred-fold. At peak, an inch of soil was lost every 25 years. Before the Europeans, wind and water erosion took 2,500 years to remove the same thin layer.

Because of erosion, overgrazing and drought, the planet’s farmland is being degraded at a catastrophic rate. An estimated 10m hectares are now abandoned each year; something the size of a family farm every minute. And as the food supply is threatened, demand will accelerate. There will be many more hungry people at the table.

In the last year, researchers re-examined UN population projections and decided that the global numbers may not peak at 9 billion. By 2100, the world could be home to 12 billion and still rising. By 2100, according to business-as-usual climate projections, temperatures will have risen by 4C and sea levels by a metre or so. So land that is ever less productive will be expected to deliver vastly more food at ever greater cost in fossil fuel energy to feed increasingly conflict-torn nation states.

Solutions exist but none are easy. All will require a generous adjustment between the haves and the have-nots and sustained global cooperation. That sounds like a dream, but the alternative is a nightmare.

The enduring lesson of history is that drought and famine feed conflict, and conflict breeds more privation, and despair. Come December, each aspect of the climate challenge will have become more pressing, and more complex. Everything should be on the table in Paris except perhaps, symbolically, lunch.

This article, published by The Guardian, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Family planning is a cost-effective strategy for climate change and food security, says new report

February 9, 2015


A new report from the University of California’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health states that access to family planning services is a cost-effective strategy for addressing population growth, food insecurity and climate change.


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Credit: Frischifresh via Flickr

A cost-effective strategy

“More than 800 million people on the planet are chronically hungry and climate change is accelerating,” said lead author of the report Joe Speidel, MD, MPH. “Ongoing rapid population growth is making it much more difficult to address these serious world problems. Voluntary family planning is a cost-effective way to improve world food security and slow climate change.”

The report cites that improving access to family planning could provide 16 to 29 percent of the needed decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the need to increase production of crops and meat would help stabilize the climate, in addition to making it easier to address world hunger, since agriculture and livestock production currently account for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“This report adds to the growing body of evidence that advancing human rights and reproductive healthcare is critical to protecting people and the planet,” said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Our sheer numbers, along with the demands of environmentally-devastating — and growing — industries like meat production and fossil fuels, puts incredible pressure on our climate, our food systems and wildlife. Family planning, education and equality are common-sense and cost-effective solutions to these global crises.”

According to the report, it would cost an estimated $9.4 billion annually to meet the unmet need for family planning — less than 5 percent of the $209 billion annually estimated to meet the need for food in developing countries.

It’s estimated that providing family planning services to the 225 million women worldwide who want access to modern contraception but are unable to get it would prevent 52 million unintended pregnancies each year. Since the year 2000, world population has grown by 1.2 billion people — more than the combined populations of Europe and North America.

The report recommends an increase in foreign aid to fill the $5.3 billion gap in funds for family planning, and that the research, policy and program communities addressing world hunger and global warming make family planning a priority in the new Sustainable Development Goals.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Population and Sustainability program highlights the connections between runaway human population growth, unsustainable overconsumption and the wildlife extinction crisis, and promotes a range of solutions, including universal access to family planning and reproductive healthcare, and the education and empowerment of women and girls.

This article, published by eNewsPF, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Read the report

PSN co-hosts launch of Expert Working Group report on population and climate change in UK Parliament

February 5, 2015


PSN in collaboration with the Population Reference Bureau and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on population, development and reproductive health, co-hosted a reception to celebrate the launch of a ground-breaking report. The report makes the connection between family planning and climate change and outlines recommendations for policy makers.


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Making the connection

Credit: APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health

PSN’s coordinator, Karen Newman, was a member of an Expert Working Group on Population Dynamics and Climate Compatible Development convened by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and Worldwatch Institute.

The working group comprised experts from the climate change, family planning and development assistance communities and was assembled to examine population and climate compatible development.

In the report, the experts recommend that policy makers and others working to slow human-caused climate change and make societies more resilient to its impacts should consider potential contributions to that effort from expanded access to universal voluntary family planning.

Launching the report

On 2nd February, the report was launched in the UK at the House of Commons at a reception hosted by Baroness Jenny Tonge of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on population, development and reproductive health in collaboration with PRB, PSN, PSDA and IPPF. The event was attended by members of Parliament and the House of Lords, representatives from environmental and reproductive health organisations, academics and the media. 

Baroness Tonge welcomed guests to celebrate the launch of the report and introduced PSN’s Karen Newman and Jason Bremner from the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau, which convened the Expert Working Group to look at the links between population dynamics and climate change.

“As the world edges towards finalising a successor framework for the Millennium Development Goals in September this year, and we anticipate a major Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, and our own APPG Group is hosting hearings next month, chaired by Sir Richard Ottaway on this very subject, this report couldn’t be more timely”, explained Baroness Tonge. 

Ground-breaking collaboration

“This is the first time that experts from the fields of family planning, demography, sustainable development, climate change and the environment have come together to review the evidence on these links, and come up with recommendations for policy-makers and others interested in this critical connection”, PSN’s Karen Newman said.

Jason Bremner, Associate Vice President and Program Director of Population, Health, and Environment at the Population Reference Bureau, then shared the key facts and findings of the Expert Working Group report and reiterated how, moving forward, experts and practitioners from the fields of climate change and family planning must engage with each other to address these cross-cutting issues. 

Read the report: Making the connection - Population dynamics and climate compatible development

Read more about the report. 

Read an article about the report launch in The New York Times.

Sustainable development is only possible if women's health is prioritised

January 21, 2015

SOURCE: The Guardian

Reproductive rights and healthcare are key to many of the proposed sustainable development goals. But will UN member states pay attention to the evidence?



Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park via Flickr

Women’s rights and empowerment is vital

“Let the 21st century be the century of women.” These were the words of the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, when he launched his report on the post- 2015 development agenda. “The empowerment and rights of girls and women must be at the heart of everything we do,” said Ban.

Let’s hope the member states were paying attention.

In September, UN delegates will come together in New York to decide on the content of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will drive the global agenda on social, economic and environmental development for the next 15 years. Work thus far has resulted in 17 draft goals and 169 specific targets.
The goals are broad and ambitious, but improving women’s health is not mentioned specifically in any of them and is referenced in just two targets.

Even a glance at the list of proposed goals makes clear that universal access to contraception and other sexual and reproductive health services is vital to achieving many of them.

How can we end poverty if women and couples cannot determine whether or when to have a child, or how many to have? How can we ensure equitable education for all if so many girls drop out of school due to unwanted pregnancy? How can we achieve gender equality if women’s reproductive rights are not fulfilled?

The answer to all of these questions is the same: we can’t.

But these are the questions that must be asked in September as UN delegates and civil society groups negotiate a final version of the SDGs.

Global contraception use not keeping up with population growth

For negotiations to take women’s wellbeing into account effectively, they must start with the basic facts. While more women are practising modern contraception today than a decade ago, contraceptive use has barely kept pace with global population growth.

New research from the Guttmacher Institute shows that a shockingly high number of women in developing regions still do not receive the services they need to protect their health and that of their newborns: 225 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using contraceptives and 43 million pregnant women face health risks by giving birth outside a health facility.

In addition, while increased access to antiretroviral therapy has changed the course of the Aids epidemic globally, increasing life expectancy significantly, nearly half of women who need treatment for HIV do not receive it.

The consequences are devastating: 74m unintended pregnancies, 28m unplanned births and 20m unsafe abortions each year. Some 290,000 women and 2.9 million newborns die each year, largely because of the lack of access to good-quality care during childbirth. In addition, 273,000 infants become infected with HIV during pregnancy and delivery or breastfeeding.

The rewards for providing these women and their newborns with the services they need are tremendous: unintended pregnancies would drop by 52m; 200,000 fewer women and 2 million fewer newborns would die every year and new HIV infections in newborns would be virtually eliminated.

Fully satisfying women’s need for modern contraception would also make healthcare investments more affordable overall. For every additional dollar invested in contraception in developing regions, the cost of pregnancy-related care –including HIV care for women and newborns – is reduced by about $1.50 (about £1).

Women’s health necessary to meet wider development goals

Beyond these striking health gains, there is a huge payoff in terms of other social and economic returns. Girls and young women are more likely to be able to stay at school, improving their future participation in the labour force and earning potential. In turn, household savings and assets receive a boost.

Poverty is reduced, living conditions improve and communities are better off when women can fully participate and contribute. All these benefits have direct impacts on a wide variety of other development goals.

In the months ahead, government negotiators and civil society will grapple with many competing priorities as they try to reach a consensus on a new global development agenda. And, undoubtedly, socially conservative countries and activists who are hostile to sexual and reproductive health rights will lobby against addressing these issues in the final goals.

But these core principles must not be compromised or negotiated away. UN delegates need to pay attention to the evidence that clearly establishes how investing in sexual and reproductive health benefits women, their families, their communities and their nations. If they don’t, half of humanity will continue to lag behind and true sustainable development will be impossible to achieve.

This article, published by The Guardian, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists

January 16, 2015

SOURCE: The Guardian

Humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment, new research has found.



Credit: Crustmania via Flickr

Mass overconsumption and pollution

Humans are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years by degrading land and freshwater systems, emitting greenhouse gases and releasing vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment, new research has found.

Two major new studies by an international team of researchers have pinpointed the key factors that ensure a liveable planet for humans, with stark results.

Of nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded “safe” levels – human-driven climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change and the high level of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the oceans due to fertiliser use.

Researchers spent five years identifying these core components of a planet suitable for human life, using the long-term average state of each measure to provide a baseline for the analysis.

They found that the changes of the last 60 years are unprecedented in the previous 10,000 years, a period in which the world has had a relatively stable climate and human civilisation has advanced significantly.

Carbon dioxide levels, at 395.5 parts per million, are at historic highs, while loss of biosphere integrity is resulting in species becoming extinct at a rate more than 100 times faster than the previous norm.

Urban population increase

Since 1950 urban populations have increased seven-fold, primary energy use has soared by a factor of five, while the amount of fertiliser used is now eight times higher. The amount of nitrogen entering the oceans has quadrupled.

All of these changes are shifting Earth into a “new state” that is becoming less hospitable to human life, researchers said.

“These indicators have shot up since 1950 and there are no signs they are slowing down,” said Prof Will Steffen of the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre. Steffen is the lead author on both of the studies.

“When economic systems went into overdrive, there was a massive increase in resource use and pollution. It used to be confined to local and regional areas but we’re now seeing this occurring on a global scale. These changes are down to human activity, not natural variability.”

Steffen said direct human influence upon the land was contributing to a loss in pollination and a disruption in the provision of nutrients and fresh water.

“We are clearing land, we are degrading land, we introduce feral animals and take the top predators out, we change the marine ecosystem by overfishing – it’s a death by a thousand cuts,” he said. “That direct impact upon the land is the most important factor right now, even more than climate change.”

There are large variations in conditions around the world, according to the research. For example, land clearing is now concentrated in tropical areas, such as Indonesia and the Amazon, with the practice reversed in parts of Europe. But the overall picture is one of deterioration at a rapid rate.

Critical situation

“It’s fairly safe to say that we haven’t seen conditions in the past similar to ones we see today and there is strong evidence that there [are] tipping points we don’t want to cross,” Steffen said.

“If the Earth is going to move to a warmer state, 5-6C warmer, with no ice caps, it will do so and that won’t be good for large mammals like us. People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us.

“Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem.”

Steffen said the research showed the economic system was “fundamentally flawed” as it ignored critically important life support systems.

“It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive,” he said. “History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today.”

The two studies, published in Science and Anthropocene Review, featured the work of scientists from countries including the US, Sweden, Germany and India. The findings will be presented in seven seminars at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which takes place between 21 and 25 January.

This article, published by The Guardian, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Read: PSN’s article on Population and Planetary Boundaries

Making the Connection: Population Dynamics and Climate Compatible Development

January 16, 2015


PSN participates in the Population Reference Bureau’s Expert Working Group on Population Dynamics and Climate Compatible Development, recommending the inclusion of universal access to voluntary family planning in climate compatible development plans.



Credit: Photo by Ollivier Girard for CIFOR via Flickr

Linking population, family planning and climate change

PSN’s coordinator, Karen Newman, was a member of an Expert Working Group on Population Dynamics and Climate Compatible Development convened by the Population Reference Bureau and Worldwatch Institute.

The working group comprised experts from the climate change, family planning, and development assistance communities and was assembled to examine population and climate compatible development.

The group’s goal was to identify approaches and opportunities for advancing policy dialogue and policy action to incorporate population dynamics, with an emphasis on family planning, into climate compatible development. 

In the report, the experts recommend that policy makers and others working to slow human-caused climate change and make societies more resilient to its impacts should consider potential contributions to that effort from expanded access to universal voluntary family planning.

“This is a clear statement from a diverse group of climate and reproductive health experts, women and men from developing as well as developed countries,” said Robert Engelman, Senior Fellow and former President of the Worldwatch Institute.

“The group strongly recommends expanding access to family planning, with one of its many benefits being that it helps support development that is compatible with a sustainable climate.”

Over the last hundred years, the world’s population has grown from around 1 billion people to more than 7 billion people. Human activity has transformed vast areas of the Earth’s surface, altered the atmosphere, and resulted in thousands of plant and animal species extinctions. 

Universal voluntary family planning is vital

Achieving universal access to voluntary family planning throughout the world would result in fewer unintended pregnancies, improve the health and well-being of women and their families, and slow population growth—all benefits to climate compatible development.

Group members agreed that framing family planning-climate change connections within a woman-centred and rights-based approach was key to increasing awareness of and acting on these links.

The group established guiding principles to structure their discussions, which may prove useful for other health and climate communities who may also be interested in seeking common ground. These are:

  • Global greenhouse gas emissions should be limited to avoid the most deleterious effects of climate change.
  • Individuals and couples have a universal right to decide the number and spacing of children.
  • Human resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of climate change should be enhanced.
  • Family planning is one of many effective and essential climate compatible development strategies.
  • All societies should participate in finding solutions to climate challenges.
  • All societies should be enabled to pursue development pathways that simultaneously promote human well-being and limit climate change.
  • Local participation in climate compatible development is important.
  • Special needs and circumstances of particularly vulnerable populations should be considered.

The expert working group identified action opportunities to advance the goal of achieving universal access to family planning as part of climate compatible development, under four strategic approaches:

  • Build awareness about trends in unintended pregnancy and unmet need for family planning, and their connections to climate change.
  • Create an enabling environment for connecting these issues and advancing these policy opportunities by fostering more cross-sector dialogue and action among health, family planning, climate, and development sectors.
  • Identify and act on policy opportunities to ensure that universal access to family planning is part of climate compatible development strategies.
  • Increase the financing available for both climate change and family planning and create innovative financing for family planning within climate compatible development plans.

Linking population, reproductive health, and climate change is unconventional for many policymakers. Cross-sectoral alliances and initiatives that highlight and integrate potential synergies in development plans and in climate finance programs could reap significant benefits, especially over time, for individuals and societies as we tackle climate change.

When safe and effective family planning services are available to all, experience shows that average family size falls, pregnancies occur at more optimal times in women’s lives, and mothers and children are healthier and more able to contribute to their countries’ development—and are more resilient to rapid change.

PSN Co-ordinator, Karen Newman, welcomed the launch of the report, saying “This group brought together experts from the sexual and reproductive health and rights, climate change and sustainable development communities; the consensus they reached on the role that access to family planning services can play in building community resilience to climate change is ground-breaking”.

The report was launched at the UNCOP20 climate change conference in Peru in December 2014 by members of the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance, of which PSN is a member. 

Read the report

Population growth driving Philippines’ climate vulnerability

January 5, 2015


The Philippines’ rapidly growing population is increasing its vulnerability to climate change, according to a government document.


Credit: Ville Miettinen via Flickr

Increased vulnerability

Around 92 million people live in the Philippines and the number is growing by 1.9% a year. The country has slipped recently from 12th to 3rd most vulnerable in the world to climate change.

“The large number of people and their migration patterns have led to crowded cities, waste and housing problems, pollution, and encroachment of upland forests and watersheds leading to denudation and, consequently, significant reduction of carbon sinks,” write the authors of the report.

In 1970, the population of the Philippines was 30 million. Population growth has slowed since then, but the number of people living in the country is nonetheless expected to double in the next thirty years.

The 102-page document was submitted to the UN’s climate body on 29 December. It outlines the country’s vulnerabilities, actions and constraints in tackling climate change.

Fragility and resilience

The growth is mainly happening in urban areas, as Filipinos migrate towards cities. Since 2000, the number of people living in rural areas has been shrinking, the government reports.

Urban areas tend to be more at risk of flooding and earthquakes, which raises the pressure on the Philippines as rising temperatures are predicted to intensify the impacts of climate change.

The vulnerability of the Philippines was thrown into the spotlight in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan made landfall, killing more than 6,000 people and forcing millions into temporary homes.

Heherson Alvarez, from the Philippines Climate Change Commission, told RTCC at the UN climate talks in December that the country was working on building its resilience in the aftermath of the typhoon.

“The government has been reorganised so at the grassroots we’re stronger at responding,” he said.

But the latest document speculates that inadequate measures in the Philippines could be one reason why it is becoming more vulnerable than other countries.

Environmental degradation

According to World Bank data, the Filipino population is increasing faster than in neighbouring countries Indonesia and Vietnam. But it is slower than many African countries, where growth rate in 2013 was more than 3%.

Not only is population growth increasing the country’s vulnerability, but it is also boosting its emissions.

“As the population and the economy grew, energy consumption increased, as well as transport use, and industrial activity in all the production and services sectors,” the document says.

“All of these meant greater use of the country’s agricultural, forestry and marine resources and increasing pressure on the natural environment.”

Total energy use has increased proportionally with population growth, it notes.

Greenhouse gas emissions from road transport – which makes up 36.8% of total energy demand – is predicted to rise from 24 million tonnes of CO2 today to 87 MtCO2 in 2030.

Forest cover in the Philippines has also been reduced from around 27.5 million hectares in the 1500s to around only 7.2 million today. Many of the causes – including logging, agriculture and unplanned land conversion – have been worsened by population growth.

This article, published by RTCC, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.