Does Rights-based Family Planning Really Matter to Environmental Sustainability? A Reborn Project and New Director Explore the Evidence at the Population Institute

Striving to improve the well-being of both people and the planet, the Population Institute (PI) is launching a new effort to understand a critical connection: how family planning relates to prospects for environmental sustainability.

Under PI auspices, the FP/Earth project will explore the scientific case that removing barriers to the use of contraception and helping to realize people’s right to reproductive health worldwide can supplement and enhance efforts to slow climate change, ease human pressure on the natural world, and improve food security and health. Directed by Céline Delacroix of the University of Ottawa, the project renames and continues the work of the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (FPESA), sponsored by the Worldwatch Institute from 2013 to 2016.

Over three years, the FPESA project engaged a network of research assessors from around the world to assess peer-reviewed scientific articles relating to the family planning-environment linkage. The project’s 165-page report, published in 2016, concluded that scientists generally considered the size and growth of human population as important factors in climate change and environmental degradation.

But few scientists probed the linkage carefully, much less considered the potential for population growth to slow as a side benefit to improved access to reproductive health services and increased use of family planning. One exception, the project found, was that many researchers based in sub-Saharan Africa called for improved family planning services to contribute to more sustainable and secure food production in their region.

Under the direction of Ms. Delacroix, FP/Earth will build on the work of the FPESA project, continuing the assessment of journal articles. It will also encourage more scientific work on the linkage by developing and keeping informed a network of interested researchers. The reborn project will also engage in advocacy on behalf of rights-based family planning, while working to highlight how reproductive freedom can aid in achieving environmental sustainability.

The basic message relayed by the FP/Earth project is one espoused by many in the broader movement for sexual and reproductive health and rights: Fulfilling reproductive rights by empowering each person to choose the number, timing, and spacing of their offspring has a positive impact on the health and well-being of people.  When people have control over their reproductive health and well-being, this, in turn, can have a positive impact on environmental sustainability. Removing existing barriers to family planning can help fulfil people’s reproductive rights, while also slowing population growth. As scientific findings have demonstrated, slower growth can both help ease human pressure on the climate and environment and facilitate resilience to environmental and climate change already occurring.

“Acknowledging and harnessing these connections has the potential to strengthen reproductive freedom as well as the chances for future generations to live in a sustainable environment,” says Céline Delacroix, FP/Earth Project Director.

The FPESA project engaged the collaboration of 25 researchers from around the world, roughly evenly divided by women and men and representatives of low, middle, and high-income countries. Robert Engelman, former president of the Worldwatch Institute and now a Senior Fellow at the Population Institute, founded and directed the FPESA project and will serve as an adviser to the new phase of the project.

“How the use of family planning influences environmental sustainability is among the most important but rarely asked questions society faces,” Engelman said.  “I’m delighted and grateful to the Population Institute for sponsoring Céline Delacroix to direct this new phase of a project probing and educating on the linkage. Céline’s deep experience and talent will bring the project to a broader community and into a new era, in which it is needed more than ever.”

FP/Earth will pursue its work as a project of the Population Institute under the overall guidance of Kathleen Mogelgaard, who assumed the presidency of the Institute in May.

“The Population Institute seeks to improve the health and well-being of people and the planet by supporting policies and programs that promote sexual and reproductive health and rights,” said Mogelgaard. “We are thrilled to support Céline and the work of FP/Earth in shedding light on the ways in which the realization of rights for people everywhere contributes to sustainability.”


Céline Delacroix

Director, FP/Earth Project

[email protected]