What’s next for climate change, sustainable development and sexual and reproductive health and rights?

December 3, 2014


PSN’s coordinator calls on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) community to ‘get serious about population dynamics’ as they may be the key for ensuring that SRHR remain important international development issues in the post-2015 development agenda.



Credit: Steve Evans via Flickr

SRHR and the Big Picture

PSN’s Coordinator, Karen Newman, was invited to speak at this year’s EuroNGOs international conference, which focused on the theme ‘Putting the puzzle together, SRHR in a post-2015 world’.

The conference was designed around six interactive sessions and called for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the UN negotiations that will lead to the approval of a new set of developmental goals in September 2015.

“The post-2015 framework is important for several reasons, but one of the most important is that it will shape development funding streams for the next decade”, explained Karen. 

The four biggest international development issues right now are: climate change, food/water security, poverty elimination, and fragile states. But the question is: how can we link SRHR to these big issues in order to ensure that they remain important international development priorities in the post-2015 framework? The answer, claimed Karen, lies in a nuanced understanding of  population dynamics

A call for action

What do we want? – sexual and reproductive health and rights! When do we want it? Now!

“Right now, millions of people are on the move; migration and urbanisation are two key population dynamics that shape the size and scope of the challenges we face. Others include population growth, population decline, and ageing”, said Karen. “Population dynamics [will] help us to prioritize SRHR as global priorities in the coming years”.

Karen called on SRHR advocates and policy makers to get involved in work related to population dynamics as they are key, critical cross-cutting issues in international development.

Karen explained that if the SRHR community do not get involved in advocacy and policy work related to population dynamics, then the field will be left free for people for whom a concern about respecting and protecting human rights is not a priority.

Climate change: the facts

The world’s poorest countries will be hit earliest and hardest by the effects of climate change and it is exactly those countries that are most vulnerable to its impacts and have the least capacity to adapt.

The five most frequently mentioned factors that will be made worse by population growth and climate change are:

  • Population pressures on fresh water availability
  • Population affective soil degradation/erosion, which will have implications for agriculture
  • Shortage of land per capita/over grazing
  • Deforestation
  • High population density/migration to coastal areas, thereby increasing vulnerability.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that “sixty percent of the world’s 39 metropolises with a population of over 5 million are located within 100km of the coast, including 12 of the world’s 16 cities with populations greater than 10 million”.

Rising sea levels will result in the need to move millions of people away from the sea.  That’s in addition to the millions of people who are moving away from war, persecution, poverty, starvation. 

How SRHR fits in

The SRHR community “need to understand [population dynamics and climate change] better in order to participate in the discourse about how to address them effectively” explained Karen, ”It isn’t hard to make the case that access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services is an important element of building climate-resilient communities, but you have to do it carefully, mindful of other factors, including differentials in consumption patterns, carbon emissions etc”.

The links between population dynamics and climate change are complex and controversial, but they are critical.  We need to reclaim the word ‘population’ in order to focus global attention on population dynamics, because that offers a promising avenue for prioritizing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post 2015 landscape.

More information about the EuroNGOs conference can be found on their website

Read more about population dynamics and SRHR in our briefing