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