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Climate change and the Pill

By Farida Akhter - posted Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The 2009 edition of The State of World Population has been released just before the 15th Session of United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP15) to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark during 7-18 December, 2009. It shows that climate change is more than an issue of energy efficiency or industrial carbon emissions; it is also an issue of population dynamics, poverty and gender equity. In Bangladesh, the UNFPA Representative, Mr Arthur Erken launched the report, the focus of which is women, population and climate change.

To link population, climate change and women is a bit tricky in the context of developing countries, because according to our experiences since Earth Summit of 1992, every time wealthy nations are reminded of their contribution to the degradation of our environment, they tend to point fingers at poorer countries and talk about population.

Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Egypt, women are linked more towards the solution of the problems of poverty, environmental degradation, climate change and other social issues. In an over simplistic way, they propose that women can solve the problem by having less children, thereby, reducing the number of people being affected by climate-change related disasters.


In December 2009, the world leaders from 192 countries are supposed to come to an agreement to keep global temperatures below catastrophic levels. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 as the basis for a global response to the problem. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

It is a well acknowledged fact that developed countries and major emerging economy nations lead in total carbon dioxide emissions. Developed nations typically have high carbon dioxide emissions per capita and total carbon emissions, such as United States, Canada, UK, and Germany and so on, therefore it is expected by the developing countries that these wealthy industrialised nations must take the main responsibility of cutting carbon emissions.

But at the closing session of the Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) held in Barcelona in early November, many developing countries, including Bangladesh, expressed their deep frustration in arriving at the developed countries’ greenhouse gas emission reductions for the second commitment period under the Protocol.

According to the Third World Network Barcelona News Update (#12, November 9, 2009) the announcements for emission reduction targets by developed countries in aggregate range between 13-26 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, as calculated by the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and 12-19 per cent by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) if the US (non-Kyoto Protocol Party) is included. It is unlikely that developed countries will meet these figures. Climate scientists say that the world must stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and start making them fall by about 2015 to 2020. By 2050 they estimate the world must cut its emissions by 80 per cent compared with 1990 levels to limit global warming to a 2C average rise.

While developed countries are failing to meet their commitments by coming to an agreement for reduction in carbon emissions, they are now adding a new dimension to the issue and that is "population". In the State of World Population Report, 2009 it says:

A growing body of evidence shows that recent climate change is primarily the result of human activity. The influence of human activity on climate change is complex. It is about what we consume, the types of energy we produce and use, whether we live in a city or on a farm, whether we live in a rich or poor country, whether we are young or old, what we eat, and even the extent to which women and men enjoy equal rights and opportunities. It is also about our growing numbers - approaching 7 billion. As the growth of population, economies and consumption outpaces the earth’s capacity to adjust, climate change could become much more extreme - and conceivably catastrophic.


Very surprisingly the report gives a new figure for world population as approaching 7 billion (from present level of 6 billion plus) without any population census being held in any country. It is simply based on estimates of birth rates. Don't we need Population Census anymore?

Second, although the report clearly admits that population growth has been a smaller contributor to growth in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, yet they want the debate to be raised. The report says:

Indeed, fear of appearing supportive of population control has until recently held back any mention of “population” in the climate debate. Nonetheless, some participants in the debate are tentatively suggesting the need at least to consider the impacts of population growth.

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About the Author

Farida Akhter (Bangladesh) is the Executive Director of UBINIG a policy and action research organisation in Bangladesh working with the farming, weaving and rural and urban communities in Bangladesh. She also runs Narigrantha Prabartana, the first and only feminist bookstore and feminist publishing house in Bangladesh.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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