The Connection Between Climate Change and Reproductive Rights

I posted statistics in an earlier blog entry, highlighting the status of women in terms of property and percentage of wealth.  These cateogires were both connected and impacted by their surrounding regional and global environments, as the article discusses. 

A few days ago, another article on RH Reality Check was published, entitled “People, Population, and Climate Change: Opportunities for Advancing Climate Resilience and Reproductive Rights.”  The linkage between these subjects is often overlooked, and a world of good could come from both sides of the debate by incorporating a rights-based approach  into their schema.

The critical ideas from the article center around the time-sensitive subject of population, now at 7 billion.  As the population continues to grow, the areas in which birth rate surges are in developing countries.  The areas needing the most comprehensive access to contraception and sexual health education are those with limited are no access at all.  Despite controversy over climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that climage change is occurring now, and as a direct result of human activity.  While developing countries do not emit the highest levels of GHG emissions, a driving force of climate change, they are the most at risk for the impacts of climate change as their population swells.  Population and climate change doubly encumber natural resources, and both geographical factors and resource constraints drive developing countries’ vulnerability and difficulty with adaptation.  As the article explains, the relationship intensifies variables such as migration, household composition and urbanisation, and population density.  And as these developing countries move towards the global trends of development, their emissions will only increase.  The article details the need for a rights-based vision in addressing these interrelated challenges:

An integrated and rights-based approach is needed

A focus on population dynamics offers such potential to further international response to climate change that it is time population commanded the consideration necessary, and crucially, in ways that advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. Women with an unmet need for effective contraception are estimated to account for 82 percent of all unintended pregnancies in developing countries, contributing significantly to population growth. This means there are real opportunities to reduce population growth in these countries, simply by preventing unplanned pregnancies, and bringing closer the day when every child is a wanted child. What is required is the political will to enable all women and men to have the access to family planning that is often taken for granted in the developed world. While the importance of family planning for women and children’s health and women’s rights alone should be more than sufficient to generate the necessary investment to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, sadly this has not been the case. Climate change however, offers yet another reason why ensuring all women have access to family planning makes sense, and one that might just yield more of the attention it deserves.

The critical nature of the links between population dynamics and climate change mean that it’s not a case of whether this will become more widely recognised, but when. For precisely this reason, those of us who care about women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights need to be fully involved in the debate: so that programmes relating to population issues respect and protect these rights. A rights-based approach is essential to addressing the inter-related problems in the global South of high fertility rates, sustained poverty and vulnerability to climate change. With a central focus on choice, this approach would offer access to family planning services as part of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. It would address the large unmet demand for reproductive health services and choices, but encompass far more. A rights-based approach includes addressing issues such as sexual violence and coercion, and other interventions that seek to promote behaviour change through changing the social norms underlying gendered power inequalities. There is also a focus on education strategies that encompass rights-based ethos within programmes to increase people’s understanding of rights and instill a sense of entitlement. Lastly, a rights-based framework establishes means for ensuring accountability and for redress of rights violations.


An international political drive is necessary to ensuring that family planning is accessible for all men, women, and children in developing nations. As so concisely said by the authors,

To succeed in promoting an integrated population and climate change agenda as a legitimate part of a global response to climate change, a language must be found that reflects and addresses the need to emphasise resource consumption in the North, at the same time as advocating increased access to sexual and reproductive health care services in the South.


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