Worried About Climate Change? Investing in Reproductive Health Must Be Part of the Solution
21 May 2018 at 5:15 pm
By investing in family planning we can transform lives, improve health and economic outcomes, and help reduce our impact on the climate, but right now family planning is scarcely part of the conversation, writes Chris Turner, CEO of Marie Stopes International Australia (MSIA).
While politicians deliberate and access to global climate funding becomes increasingly technocratic, it seems the most effective approach to climate change may indeed be one of the simplest.
Since the invention of the contraceptive pill in the 1950’s, access to modern contraception has driven some of the key demographic and social changes in history. It has delivered improved health outcomes for mothers and babies as women are able to wait longer between births or delay having their first child. It created demographic shifts, as populations have fewer dependents and a more productive labour force. It has empowered girls and women to stay in school longer, seek higher education and participate in the formal economy. And now recent research has determined that contraception also has a key role to play in addressing climate change.
As global warming becomes more of a certainty and climate events become more frequent, it can feel overwhelming. It’s predicted that climate change will lead to more extreme weather events and disasters, climate related diseases, food insecurity and instability. Our part of the world is particularly at risk and more people in Asia and the Pacific are affected by climate related events than in any other region in the world – 83 per cent are affected by droughts, 97 per cent are affected by floods and 92 per cent are affected by storms.
In response to this reality, a number of research papers, think tanks and universities have been exploring practical approaches to climate action. Last year, 200 scholars, scientists and thought leaders identified a comprehensive list of solutions with the greatest potential to reduce emissions or sequester carbon from the atmosphere in a book called Project Drawdown. Amongst 100 quantified solutions, family planning and educating girls were ranked as the most effective combined solution to reverse climate change.
As one of the largest global providers of reproductive health services, my team at Marie Stopes International Australia has been exploring this link; how does access to contraception impact on climate change?
Poverty reduction and strengthening economies
When women can exercise reproductive choice, they are more likely to participate in education and the workforce. In most developing countries, female participation in the formal economy has increased as fertility has fallen. Women’s participation in the economy promotes economic growth and economies that are strong are better able to absorb the disturbances of climate change and recover from climate-related events.
Sustainable population growth
Scaling up access to voluntary, high quality sexual and reproductive health services in areas vulnerable to climate change can reduce the pressure that rapid population growth has on the living environment and reduce the harms associated with increasing numbers of people being exposed to climate risks.
Women’s participation and leadership
Women’s participation and leadership is important to climate change preparedness, resilience and action. Enabling women to control their bodies and reproductive health can help create opportunities for women to participate, lead and contribute to the conversation.
As a climate change mitigation strategy, family planning programs are also more cost-effective than other conventional, energy-focused solutions. One study found that $220 billion spent on providing family planning to those with an unmet need would reduce 34 gigatons of global carbon emissions, compared to $1 trillion for a similar outcome if spent on low carbon technologies.
Thankfully these choices aren’t exclusive, but right now family planning is scarcely part of the conversation. More than 100 million women have an identified but unmet need for family planning in Asia. By investing in family planning to reach more of these women, we can transform their lives, improve health and economic outcomes and help to reduce our impact on the climate as well as improve our ability to respond to the coming changes.
There is still much to be done. Click here to read the full paper.
About the Author: Chris Turner is the CEO of Marie Stopes International Australia (MSIA), an international organisation that provides sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls in 37 countries. Chris began his career in international development 16 years ago with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, moving to the Canadian International Development Agency and later to Save the Children. Chris joined Marie Stopes International in 2007. Since leaving his native Canada, Chris has held posts in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.