More than 200 million women worldwide want contraceptives, but currently have no access to them. Addressing this unmet need, and the 76 million unintended pregnancies globally each year, would slow population growth. This in turn would reduce demographic pressure on the environment. Those issues are discussed in the lead editorial in this week´s edition of The Lancet.

The editorial says: “Countries in the developing world least responsible for the growing emissions are likely to experience the heaviest impact of climate change, with women bearing the greatest toll. In tandem with other factors, rapid population growth in these regions increases the scale of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change, for example, food and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and human displacement.”

The editorial mentions the recent International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) meeting in Berlin and observes: “Many of the NGOs still seem to be working in silos, avoiding the multisectoral engagement required to change societal attitudes.” It qualifies of ‘disappointing’ the remaining tensions between various groups in these communities, but continues to remark: “However, the discussions on how the sexual and reproductive health community are grappling with the emergent environmental crises that now shadow the landscape of women’s health drew much attention at the Berlin meeting.”

A study of the first 40 National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) is soon to be published by the WHO. It is submitted by the least developed countries to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The study shows that 37 of these countries made the association between population growth and climate change. However, only six of them identified family planning as an element of their adaptation strategy. This is because family planning falls under the responsibility of the Ministries of Health rather than Environment, who are responsible for the NAPA documents. Also, only 7 percent of the 448 projects across the 40 NAPAs were in the health sector.

According to the editorial, the health response is not part of the current approaches to combat climate change. There is reference to a case study in Ethiopia, where people were trained in sustainable land management practices.At the same time the availability of family planning was increased. The programme resulted in a direct improvement to the environment with better agricultural practices. This outcome will be sustained in the long-term and will not be deteriorated by a rapidly increasing population.

The editorial says in closing: “With less than three months to go, the UN Copenhagen conference on climate change provides an opportunity to draw attention to the centrality of women. The sexual and reproductive health and rights community should challenge the global architecture of climate change, and its technology focus, and shift the discussion to a more human-based, rights-based adaptation approach. Such a strategy would better serve the range of issues pivotal to improving the health of women worldwide.”

“Sexual and reproductive health and climate change”
The Lancet

Written by Stephanie Brunner (B.A.)