Climate Change and Family Planning: Least-Developed Countries Define the agenda/Changement Climatique et Planification Familiale: Les Pays Les Developpes Definissent L'ordre Du jour/Cambio Climatico Y Planificacion Familiar: Los Paises Menos Adelantados Marcan la Agenda

Article excerpt


Despite widespread general debate on climate change, the relevance of demographic trends remains a comparatively unexplored issue, especially at the policy-making level. Some notable commentators have proved the exception. (1-3) In essence, the concern they raise is that growth of global population--projected to rise from around 6.8 billion people today to 9.2 billion by 20504--will inevitably lead to a significant increase of greenhouse gas emissions. This has led to calls for universal access to voluntary family planning services to be included as one component of the range of policy responses to climate change. Indeed, some authors have pointed to the "win/win" nature of this intervention given the numerous ancillary benefits of rights-based family planning programmes. These include reducing maternal and infant deaths; women's empowerment; preventing unintended pregnancies including among women living with HIV; preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV; improving access to condoms; lowering the incidence of sexually transmitted infections including those which facilitate HIV transmission; and poverty reduction. (5)

Nevertheless these calls have not to date achieved traction among politicians nor even within the environmental lobby. It is possible that this is due to concern for an over-reaction in the policy response, mindful as many are of the "population control" policies of the 1960s and 1970s that, inspired by concern for global overpopulation, infamously led to some reports of sterilization procedures being applied without full consent of the patient. (6)

It is worth noting that, like much of the public debate on climate change, the links made with demographic trends have been largely confined to their implications for greenhouse gas emissions. The relevance of demographic trends to adaptation to climate change has meanwhile remained almost entirely unexplored by the scientific literature. The main finding of this paper is that this deficit is in stark contrast to the concerns of the governments of least-developed countries.

Despite the high-profile concern for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, least-developed countries have focused more predominantly upon adaptation to climate change and thereby how they may limit the predicted damage of climate change. (7) A literature review by two of this paper's authors found that a large majority (93%) of the 40 least-developed countries who had submitted strategy documents to the Global Environmental Facility identified concern about the impact of rapid population growth upon their ability to adapt to climate change.

This re-emergence of concern for demographic trends in least-developed countries (8-10) is striking because concern about "overpopulation" was led by high-income countries in the first decades after the Second World War. In addition, this re-emergence is being driven at least as much by a grassroots movement as by leadership from the governments of either low- or high-income countries or global organizations such as "The World Bank. This is illustrated by the case study of an Ethiopian project that has integrated family planning into a conservation and land management programme. Importantly, it suggests that voluntary family planning services should be made more available to poor communities in least-developed countries to assist their ability to adapt to the harmful effects of climate change. We stress the distinction between this approach and arguing that population growth should be slowed in these countries to curb increases in greenhouse gas emissions. It is perhaps more conducive to a rights-based approach to implement family planning programmes in response to the welfare needs of people and communities rather than in response to international concern for global overpopulation.

National Adaptation Programmes of Action

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was established on 21 March 1994 with two chief objectives. …