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Population Discussed at Copenhagen Climate Conference

December 10, 2009

As the Copenhagen conference on climate change enters its third day, the role of population is getting increased mention, though few expect voluntary family planning programs will play much of a role in any mitigation and adaptation strategies that are likely to be adopted.

One prominent U.S. voice on population was Lisa Jackson, the new EPA Administrator.  In addressing the conference yesterday, Jackson said, "We have reached the first point in history where the impact of everyday human activities is affecting the health of our entire planet. Our commerce and trade, our population growth and our social behavior are having profound effects on our environment."  According to the White House, President Obama is scheduled to address the conference on December 18.

In its State of World Population 2009 report, released last month, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) emphasized that family planning, women's empowerment, and women's education should all play a major role in addressing climate change and mitigating its impact on developing countries. The report suggested that expanding voluntary family planning and reproductive health services would increase the "resilience" of those developing countries that are expected to suffer the worst effects of climate change.

Other experts and groups, including the Britain's Optimum Population Trust, have stressed that reducing fertility rates, in developed and developing countries alike, could make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Earlier this year researchers at Oregon State University concluded that in countries like the U.S, where consumers on average have a large carbon footprint, the decision  to have fewer children could reduce a person's carbon "legacy" by up to 20 times more than just adopting a "greener" lifestyle.

While the Copenhagen conference itself is not expected to take any action to boost family planning services, some developing nations, like Ethiopia, have included it as part of the formal climate change adaptation strategies that they hope will be funded by the United States and other donor nations. 

The Population Institute's Executive Vice President, Robert Walker, said today that, "Whatever role it may play in the Copenhagen Conference, reducing unwanted pregnancies through expanded voluntary family planning serivces can--and should--play a prominent role in both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping developing nations adapt to the severe challenges posed by climate change.  Many of the nations that will see the worst effects of climate change have a large unmet need for family planning.  We can and should do more to empower and educate women in those countries."

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