OPINION: Why family planning is key to climate adaptation

by Bridget Kelly | Population Institute
Friday, 27 September 2019 14:45 GMT

An employee holds condoms in a factory in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 18, 2019. Picture taken September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Though family planning is no substitute for sustained reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it can make a vital difference to human wellbeing and the future of the planet

Bridget Kelly is a research associate, Population Institute.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for “ambitious and effective adaption for sustainable development” in its new report on the inevitable changes to the oceans and terrestrial water systems and the risks of delayed action. In celebrating World Contraception Day on September 26, it’s important to understand how the two issues are profoundly related. For those living in places severely affected by climate change, family planning is an indispensable climate adaptation tool.

Access to contraception can space or limit unintended pregnancies, helping food-insecure communities adapt to the challenges posed by climate change and making families heathier and more resilient in times of crisis. While policymakers talk of infrastructure and energy-related solutions, climate change experts point to family planning and women’s empowerment as smart investments that benefit both the environment and society.

Various assessments indicate that developing countries suffer disproportionately from climate change, even though they contribute very little to the greenhouse gases responsible for the crisis. In many of these places, it will soon be a matter of economic and human survival as well as climate justice. For some, it already is. In Bangladesh, rising seas and intensifying storms are rapidly diminishing the viability and productivity of once fertile farms. In Uganda, record high temperatures are destroying the livelihoods of coffee farmers. In the western highlands of Guatemala, severe droughts are devastating crops and forcing families to migrate. 

Many developing countries identify population growth as a challenge multiplier when it comes to climate change. Access to family planning reduces maternal and child mortality and produces better health outcomes, but it also strengthens climate change-affect communities’ ability to adapt. With fewer unintended pregnancies, slower population growth reduces pressure on climate-sensitive resources. Family planning is so crucial to climate adaptation that a group of 200 scientists and researchers ranked access to modern contraception 7th out of the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming.

There are over 89 million unplanned pregnancies annually worldwide as 214 million women of reproductive age in developing regions want to avoid pregnancy but are not using a modern contraceptive method. If family planning were widely accessible and barriers to contraception were removed, unintended pregnancies, unplanned births, and abortions would decline substantially.

Family planning is a powerful tool used to enhance bodily autonomy and increase women’s economic futures. By definition, it is non-coercive, voluntary, and comprehensive and should not be confused with population control measures, which are coercive and put the onus on women while violating human rights.

Family planning contributes significantly to healthier families, healthier communities, and a healthier planet. Though it is no substitute for sustained reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it can make a vital difference to human wellbeing and the future of the planet.