Posted by: davidjolson | 11/19/2009

Empowered women can improve climate

WASHINGTON — “Family planning, reproductive health care and gender relations could influence the future course of climate change and affect how humanity adapts to rising seas, worsening storms and severe droughts.” I bet you haven’t heard much about that in all of the recent discourse on global warming and climate change.

And those attending the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark,  are unlikely to hear much about it either. There has been almost nothing on population in all the communications leading up to Copenhagen. And we all know why: people don’t like to discuss issues of family planning and reproductive health and run away from confronting them. The reasons are many — cultural hang-ups, religion, politics and any other reasons people can find.

My opening sentence above comes directly out of the UNFPA’s “State of the World’s Population 2009“, released yesterday. I attended the Washington launch of the report at the National Press Club. The focus on the report this year is on the links between women, population and climate. Although there is little data on these links, the data that we do have clearly shows that women contribute less to climate change then men while they are most affected by it. Despite that, women have been largely overlooked in the debate about how to address problems of rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather.

Robert Engelman of the Worldwatch Institute, the principal author of the report, said that the new report does not call for new spending. “What it does do is remind governments of commitments they have already made at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 and the Millennium Development Goals and calls on them to honor those commitments in order to reach more of the 200 million people in the world, virtually all of them poor, who still have an unmet need for family planning,” Engelman said.

Former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, the president of the U.N. Foundation, talked about receiving a parka in the mail recently sent by “global warming doubters.” He asked everyone at the National Press Club event to turn to a graph on page 11 of the report that shows the “Ten Warmest Years Between 1880 and 2008” — based on data from the Worldwatch Institute. Those warmest years, in order, are 2005, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2004, 2001, 2008 and 1997. So, I wonder on what basis the parka gift givers believe that the climate is not getting warmer.

One of the main points of the report is that if women are empowered to control their own reproductive lives, their environment and in other ways, they could launch a genuinely effective long-term global strategy to deal with climate change and play a major role in starting to reverse the warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

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