Climate Change

Population and climate change: who will the grand convergence leave behind?

For many developing countries, investments in health have proved a great success. The LancetCommission “Global health 2035: a world converging within a generation”1 and the 2014 Gates annual letter2 envision the possibility of a “grand convergence” by which more countries will have a child mortality rate as low as 15 per 1000 livebirths in 20 years time. We wish to draw attention to the special case of the least developed countries, which on present evidence are likely to be excluded from such a convergence.

Population and Climate Change: Empowering 100 Million Women

Meeting the world’s need for family planning is a human right and a climate imperative. Wherever women have been given information and access to family planning, birth rates have fallen – even in poor, low-literate societies like Bangladesh or conservative religious countries such as Iran.

"Big issues deserve bold responses" Les grandes questions meritent des responses audacieuses: la population et le changement climatique au Sahel

Parts of Africa have the most rapid population growth in the world. Recent studies by climatologists suggest that, in coming decades, ecologically vulnerable areas of Africa, including the Sahel will be exposed to the harshest adverse effects of global warming. The threat hanging over parts of sub-Saharan Africa is extreme. Fortunately, there are evidence-based achievable policies which can greatly ameliorate what would otherwise be a slowly unfolding catastrophe of stunning magnitude. But to succeed such measures must be taken immediately and on a large scale.

Big issues deserve bold responses: Population and climate change in the Sahel

Parts  of  Africa  have  the  most  rapid  population growth in the world. Recent studies by climatologists  suggest  that,  in  coming  decades, ecologically vulnerable areas of Africa, including the Sahel will be exposed to the harshest adverse effects of global warming. The threat hanging over parts of sub-Saharan Africa is extreme. Fortunately,  there are evidence-based achievable policies which can greatly ameliorate what would otherwise  be  a  slowly  unfolding  catastrophe  of stunning magnitude. But to succeed such measures must be taken immediately and on a large scale.

Crisis in the Sahel: Possible Solutions and the Consequences of Inaction

A report following the OASIS Conference (Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel) hosted by the University of California, Berkeley and African Institute for Development Policy in Berkeley on September 21, 2012.
The goal of this report is to start building a network of scientists and policy makers committed to helping the Sahel address its population, environment, and food security challenges. A compelling body of evidence is needed to inform people in governments and relevant local institutions, humanitarian organizations, foreign aid agencies, philanthropic institutions, and national security agencies concerning the startling challenges facing this neglected and highly vulnerable region.

Why Bold Policies for Family Planning are Needed Now

Last spring at a Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) talk in Berlin, Melinda Gates used this phrase, “The most transformative thing you can do is to give people access to birth control.” She expressed similar sentiments at the London Summit on Family Planning on July 11, 2012, as did the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Andrew Mitchell who was then Secretary of State for the Department for International Development, the British equivalent of United States Agency for International Development. The London Summit represented a new focus on international family planning after nearly 20 years of collapsed budgets. It set the goal of halving the number of women with an unmet need for family planning in the world’s poor counties in the next 8 years — that is, helping 120 million out of an estimated 222 million women worldwide with an unmet need for family planning. Donor governments and foundations pledged US$2625 million dollars over the next 8 years to reach this goal. Governments of the target countries, especially India, committed another US$2 billion. This renaissance in international family planning is exceedingly welcome, but if it is to succeed, it must pay particular attention to the least developed countries (LDCs).

Published in: Contraception (Article In Press) 

Global warming and reproductive health

The largest absolute numbers of maternal deaths occur among the 40–50 million women who deliver annually without a skilled birth attendant. Most of these deaths occur in countries with a total fertility rate of greater than 4. The combination of global warming and rapid population growth in the Sahel and parts of the Middle East poses a serious threat to reproductive health and to food security. Poverty, lack of resources, and rapid population growth make it unlikely that most women in these countries will have access to skilled birth attendants or emergency obstetric care in the foreseeable future. Three strategies can be implemented to improve women’s health and reproductive rights in high-fertility, low-resource settings: (1) make family planning accessible and remove non-evidenced-based barriers to contraception; (2) scale up community distribution of misoprostol for prevention of postpartum hemorrhage and, where it is legal, for medical abortion; and (3) eliminate child marriage and invest in girls and young women, thereby reducing early childbearing.

Niger: Too Little, Too Late

Niger—with the world’s fastest growing population, its highest total fertility rate (TFR), a small and diminishing amount of arable land, low annual rainfall, a high level of malnutrition, extremely low levels of education, gross gen- der inequities and an uncertain future in the face of climate change—is the most extreme example of a catastrophe that is likely to overtake the Sahel. The policies chosen by Niger’s government and the international community to reduce rapid population growth and the speed with which they are implemented are of the utmost importance. In this comment, we review the problems posed by Niger’s rapid population growth and the policy options proposed to confront it.

THE POPULATION FACTOR: How does it relate to climate change?

The human contribution to climate change is driven primarily by high per capita consumption in the North. The poorest 1 billion people living on a dollar or two a day contribute only 3 per cent of the world’s total carbon footprint, yet the loss of healthy life-years resulting from global warming could be as much as 500 times greater in Africa than in Europe (McMichael et al., 2008). It is also true that 99 per cent of the projected 1-4 billion increase in global population that will occur between now and 2050 will take place in the least developed countries with the smallest carbon footprints.  At first sight, the inequity that the nations of the North have caused over 90 per cent of global warming but suffer fewest of its adverse effects, combined with the asymmetry in population growth between the South and the North, seems to create an impossibly difficult background for policy discussions between countries and national groupings. The countries of the North could not ask the 2 billion people of the South living on one or two dollars a day to either slow economic growth or have fewer children in order to slow global warming.

But if we frame the discussion at the level of individual needs rather than national interests, then a totally different picture emerges. Surveys demonstrate that there is a large unmet need for family planning in both developed and developing regions, and analysis shows that meeting the unmet need for family planning and preventing unintended pregnancies – whether women are rich or poor – is one of the most cost- effective ways of slowing global warming. It has the potential to benefit hundreds of millions of individuals, to help the whole planet slow greenhouse gas accumulation and facilitate countries in adapting to climate change. As the failure of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen demonstrated, people do not want to consume less: they do, however, want fewer children. At the individual level, the link between climate change and family planning is a win-win strategy. But, for reasons just set out, it is also the climate strategy most likely to be misunderstood, corrupted deliberately or rejected out of hand, by those with strong feelings about human sexuality and the autonomy of women, as well as those promoting access to family planning.

Published by the Bixby Center for Population, Health and Sustainability, at the University of California, Berkeley.

Where next? Conclusion for ‘The impact of population growth on tomorrow’s world’

This paper provides a personal perspective on the rich discussions at the Bixby Forum. The size, rate of growth and age structure of the human population interact with many other key factors, from environmental change to governance. While the details of future interactions are sometimes difficult to predict, taken together they pose sombre threats to a socially and economically sustainable future for the rich and to any realistic possibility of lifting the world’s bottom two billion people out of poverty. Adaptive changes will be needed to cope with an ageing population in countries with low fertility or below, but these are achievable. More worrying, continued rapid population growth in many of the least developed countries could lead to hunger, a failure of education to keep pace with growing numbers, and conflict. The assumption that the demographic transition from high to low birth rates occurs as a result of exogenous social and economic forces is being replaced by a clearer understanding of the many barriers that separate women from the knowledge and technologies they need to manage their childbearing within a human rights framework. The forum ended with a clear consensus that much more emphasis needs to be given to meeting the need for family planning and to investing in education.

Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B October 27, 2009 364:3115-3124;