Family Planning may be the most cost-effective weapon against climate change. At least according to a new report from the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. According to the report, family planning could provide between 16 and 29 percent of the needed greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Additionally, last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized for the first time the benefits of family planning for impacting climate change. The IPCC report recognized the importance of family planning in areas with a high vulnerability to climate change, including the Sahel region of Africa, as well as in rich countries like the United States. Increasing access to family planning not only helps reduce human suffering, especially in extremely vulnerable areas, but also decreases overall consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Today the world population is over 7 billion, a number that is relatively recent in the history of human civilization. Between 1900 and 2000 the world population increased from 1.5 to 6.1 billion. That is, in just 100 years the population increased three times more than it had during the entire history of human kind. The effects of this astounding increase in human beings on the environment is staggering. Increasing populations threaten the survival of plant and animal species around the world, reduce air quality, increase energy demands, effect groundwater and soil health, reduce forests, expand deserts, and increase waste. And these effects will only get worse, as the United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050.
According to the report from the Bixby Center, family planning programs are dollar-for-dollar the most effective way to avoid some of the worst impacts from climate change. There are currently 222 million women in the world with an unmet need for modern family planning methods. To meet this demand for family planning it will take $9.4 billion a year, an increase from current family planning spending by about $5.3 billion a year. Despite this high dollar value, family planning spending is still a relatively cheap option. According to the report, “For every $7 spent of family planning, carbon emissions would be reduced more than [one metric ton]… the same emissions reductions from low-carbon energy production technologies would cost at least $32.”
Despite the cost-effectiveness, family planning still remains a contentious issue. But things may be looking up. As part of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) countries must consider their population size and its potential growth in order to envision how per capita emissions may change in the future. The new UNFCCC synthesis report of INDCs takes into account different population growth scenarios for the next fifteen years, and suggests that some governments may not be using the best population data for calculating business as usual emissions scenarios. Additionally, in the report some governments state that population density and growth within their countries remains a constraint on their ability to adapt to climate change.
What this means is that family planning is necessary. Not only is it necessary on a human level (family planning is one of the best ways to improve education and quality of life for women around the globe), it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for combatting climate change.