A new report from the Worldwatch Institute argues that assuring all women have access to contraception and taking steps to improve women's lives should be among key strategies in the fight against global climate change.
The report examines United Nations projections for population growth out to 2050, citing evidence that slower population growth through better family planning would mean huge reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. If the world's population leveled off at 8 billion by 2050 instead of reaching the more often projected 9 billion, for example, this would reduce CO2 emissions by more than if global deforestation were completely eliminated.
'Despite its key contribution to climate change, population and the role of women are largely ignored in the political and public debates on how to address the challenge,' said report author Robert Engelman, Worldwatch's Vice President for Programs. 'Population is associated with sensitive issues like sexuality, contraception, abortion, migration, and religion. But increasing women's reproductive rights should be at the heart of the climate discussion, in the same basket as strategies like increasing energy efficiency and researching new technologies.'
The report draws on new studies that document the environmental pressures from soaring population growth. It also reports on the unique role that women can play in alleviating those pressures, even as women are disproportionally affected by the adverse effects of climate change. Finally, the report argues that humanity ultimately will need to slow population growth to tackle rising global temperatures, and that the only way to do this is by improving the well-being of women worldwide.
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Findings at a Glance
- Annual CO2 emissions would be 5.1 billion tons less under the UN's low-growth population estimate of 8 billion people by 2050 as compared to its medium estimate of 9 billion people. Annual CO2 emissions in the world today are 23 billion tons.
- For comparison, the annual emissions savings today would be just short of 4 billion tons of CO2 if deforestation were eliminated globally or if the fuel efficiency of 2 billion cars were doubled from 13 kilometers per liter to 26 kilometers per liter.
- The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identifies global population growth as a consistent contributor to growth in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
- As the prevalence of the use of contraception has grown in recent decades, family size and population growth rates have fallen in close correlation.
About the Worldwatch Institute: Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C., that work son energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute's State of the World report is published annually in more than 20 languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org.