Population Matters

Climate change and children – a growing concern?

Climate change and children – a growing concern?

Increasingly, people are taking climate change into consideration when making decisions about having children, reports The New York TimesCoverage of the subject in the past year alone indicates that these considerations are part of an ongoing, growing discussion surrounding climate change, the impact our growing global population has on it and how family size can help mitigate its effects. The article in The New York Times is the latest such example of this.

While reasons for considering climate change and ensuing decisions about family size vary, they all point to one thing: that our environmental situation is critical and people are increasingly willing to see the link to population and act accordingly.

A range of reasons …

flooding due to climate change

The New York Times article mentions a recent study that shows how climate change has become a major factor for 18-43 year olds when it comes to making decisons about having children.

Reasons given by interviewees include

  • poorer quality of life arising from increasingly extreme weather patterns, such as wild fires, hurricanes, flooding;
  • unstable future society – social instability looms as the effects of climate change worsen (see the open letter 15,000 scientists wrote calling for urgent action) following a lag in governmental responses to climate change;
  • or the fact that having a child is one of the costliest environmental actions one can take at this stage, especially in high-consuming, industrialised countries.

Those considering climate change in their decisions do not fit a single profile. They are women, men, liberals, conservatives, individuals from different religions and regions of the world.

…a range of decisions

Responses vary. Some opt to have one child, others to adopt. Some would rather have two so they can be together when things get bad while others vow to raise their children to be climate change fighters. Other still chose to be childfree.

Often described as selfish, it is the opposite that motivates many of the childfree. Elizabeth Bogard, an 18 year old student from Northern Illinois University explains: Parenthood is “something that I want but it’s hard for me to justify my wants over what matters and what’s important for everyone.”

Seeing the effects of climate change

Choosing not to have children was particularly widespread amongst those who have seen the effects of climate change, as Ms. Kaff, 33 from Cairo said in an email: “I’ve seen how Syrian refugees, who are running from a devastating war, are being treated. Imagine how my children will be treated if they have to flee their country due to extreme weather, drought, lack of resources, flooding. I know that humans are hard-wired to procreate,” she said, “but my instinct now is to shield my children from the horrors of the future by not bringing them to the world.”

Having to take climate change in consideration is difficult for most, but important, and the feelings around the issue a measure of the extremity of the situation – and how urgently we need to take action.

Take action

Population Matters welcomes the fact that people are increasingly taking the environment considerations in their decisions about family size. Each one of us puts pressure on the natural world, consumes the Earth’s finite resources and contributes to climate change. Find out more about smaller families here.

You can find out more about climate change and population by attending our conference on the subject on the 3rd March or read more about solutions here.

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Imams support family planning in Senegal

Public health officials and NGOs in Senegal turn to mosques to expand the provision of family planning, The Christian Science Monitor reports. A key first step, results indicate. 

Senegal is over 90% Muslim and has a fertility rate of 4.8, nearly double the global average. It has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the world. Only half of the married women who would like to use modern contraception are able to. Access to contraceptives is limited, as is the knowledge of how to use them.

Since 2011, the number of married Senegalese women using modern contraceptives has doubled from 12 per cent to about 23 per cent, according to the Senegalese statistics and demography agency. Religion is not the only factor influencing contraceptive use, but gaining support from religious leaders has proven vital, public health officials and NGOs explain.

“Any time we come to a town, the first thing we do is go to a religious leader to explain what we are doing, so that they can become our link with the population,” says Michèle Diop Niang, program director for Marie Stopes International Senegal, a family planning NGO. “It’s very important because where we work, if people don’t have the support of a religious leader, they won’t use family planning at all.”

Modern methods for old practices

The notion that modern contraception is a continuation of traditional Islamic practices has been key. It is based on several passages from the Quran that instruct women to breastfeed for at least two years – a natural, albeit imperfect, form of birth control.

“Family planning is just a new word for what we have always done according to Islam,” says Seyni Cisse, an imam in the southern city of Ziguinchor.

A major turning point was five years ago when an influential imam almost lost one of his wives to childbirth. The midwife told them that they had to stop having children or else she could die. Spacing births makes mothers stronger, reducing the number of child and maternal deaths.

Many Islamic leaders continue to oppose contraceptive use and others who do support it are clear it only concerns married women in monogamous relationships. Read more on population and religion here.

The African challenge

Africa is where the greatest population growth will take place over the next century. While fertility rates are dropping across sub-Saharan Africa, they are not falling consistently. In addition to problems of access to family planning and cultural or religious opposition to contraception, in some parts of Africa, desire for a large family remains a strong influencing factor.

Creative family planning approaches are having success in addressing these problems but the very high proportion of young people in Africa in comparison to other parts of the world means far more people there are of childbearing age, counterbalancing the falls in fertility per person.

Take Action

Among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted in September 2015, is Target 3.7: “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

Access to family planning services is fundamental to slowing and reversing unsustainable population growth. Join our campaign for increased overseas aid for family planning today.

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Progress in family planning – but a long road ahead

Last week, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) released its annual report. The project designed to enable 120 more million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries to use modern contraception by 2020. The report notes a 30 per cent increase in users, which is just over half the number the FP2020 had hoped to reach at this stage. 

Increased use of modern contraceptives

Family planning in action

The FP2020 initiative was launched following a major family planning summit in 2012. It reports that as of July 2017

  • 309.3 million girls and women in the 69 focus-countries use modern contraception, an additional 38.8 million girls and women using modern contraception since the project started in 2012
  • Almost half of all new modern contraceptive users are in Africa, with 16 million additional women using modern contraception in the FP2020 countries of Africa compared to 2012. The fastest growing regions are Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • More than half the new users are in Asia, representing a total of 21.9 million women and girls. The region includes four of the five of the most populous focus-countries, namely India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

As a result of modern contraceptive use, between July 2016 and July 2017:

  • 84 million unwanted pregnancies were prevented
  • 26 million unsafe abortions were averted
  • 125,000 maternal deaths were averted

Cuts challenge access to family planning

Melinda Gates speaking at the 2012 summit. The Gates Foundation is a major donor to family planning worldwide.

Despite governments donating US$1.1 billion in funding for family planning in 2016,US cuts in international aid money for family planning have begun to affect provision.

The report notes an increase in global initiatives and funds providers by some donors, and a “growing understanding that rights-based family planning is essential to global development”, a position long held by Population Matters.

Nevertheless, the partnership’s executive director Beth Schlachter told a press briefing last week that “if the current rate of progress continues, FP2020 will not reach its 2020 target of 120 million new users.”

Take Action

Shortly after taking office, President Trump reinstated the ‘global gag rule’, which cuts off US overseas aid to any organisations providing abortion or information about it.

Population Matters joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule and supports the She Decides initiative, intended to generate alternative funding.

Please join the campaign to defend family planning.

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Gap in access to family planning widens UN warns

On Tuesday, 17 October the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched its annual state of world population report, Worlds Apart. The report shows that women and girls are experiencing greater inequality than previously in accessing sexual and reproductive health care. The hardest hit are the poorest, youngest and least educated. The implications for these communities in particular, and sustainable development in general, are profound. 

“Economic disparities are only part of the inequality story,” according to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the former Executive Director UNFPA who died before publication of the report. Many other dimensions feed into each other and need urgent action.

Two of these, the report highlights, are gender inequality and inequalities in realising sexual and reproductive health and rights. These receive far too little attention, especially the latter. Continuing to ignore them will hinder progress towards sustainable human development.

Improved sexual and reproductive health care benefits all

The benefits of improved sexual and reproductive health care for all extend far beyond health. Access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control, allows women to chose the spacing and number of births, which reduces mother and child deaths, boosts economies by freeing up women to work, decreases demand for public expenditure in education, housing and sanitation, and leads to smaller families with parents able to spend more on children’s health and education.

Yet many of the world’s poorest women – particularly the youngest, least educated and those living in rural areas – are missing out because such services are lacking, costly or considered inappropriate by their families and communities, experts say.

According to the report an the Guttmacher Institute:

  • An estimated 214 million women in developing countries (DCs) have an unmet need for family planning
  • 43 per cent of pregnancies in DCs are unplanned
  • Unintended pregnancies are linked to increasing poverty and reduced prospects for women’s economic mobility (UNFPA, 2012)
The solution 

Expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services is only half of the solution. The report concludes that the other half depends on how well we address the other dimensions of inequality that hold women, particularly the poor, back from realising their rights and ambitions, and living their lives on an equal footing to men.

The UNFPA which provides and coordinates family planning in the world’s poorest countries is facing a funding gap of $700 million of what it requires through 2020, following the US cuts to family planning services. This report shows how critical the situation is and where the solutions lie.

Take Action

Population Matters supports universal access to sexual and reproductive health care. It is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing the She Decides project – the Dutch government’s initiative to generate funds to counter the cuts. We have also joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule.

Please join the campaign to defend family planning:

  1. Support the She Decides initiative.
  2. Sign the international petition.
  3. Ask your elected representative to push their governments to provide additional aid for family planning.  (If you are a UK citizen, you can use WriteToThem to identify and contact them.)

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The UK election, overseas aid and family planning

Theresa May

UPDATE, 21 April 2017: Since this item was written, the Prime Minister has confirmed that the commitment to current levels of aid spending will remain a part of the Conservative Party programme for government if it is re-elected. In a brief comment, she also said “what we need to look at is how that money is spent”. As one of the most effective forms of overseas aid, family planning should receive a higher proportion of that expenditure.

The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading donors to family planning through overseas aid. Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly considering dropping the existing commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on aid. If that takes place, family planning in the poorest countries could be hard hit.

Following the announcement on Tuesday of a general election in the UK on 8 June, speculation has risen that the governing Conservative Party will drop its previous longstanding commitment to meet the target set by the United Nations to give 0.7% of GNI in aid. Within the next few weeks, all political parties will launch their election manifestos (pledges about what they will do in government if elected) but Mrs May has refused to make a commitment to maintaining the policy.

The 0.7% commitment has been unpopular with some Conservative Members of Parliament and parts of the UK media. A poll in 2016 found that 70% of the British electorate supported scrapping the policy.

Foreign aid and population

In addition to being one of the word’s leading aid donors, the UK also spends one of the highest proportions of aid on family planning. Family planning services are one of the most effective forms of aid in very poor countries because they reduce demand for health, education and infrastructure. An international expert panel has calculated that every dollar spent on family planning aid saves $120 of other aid.

Global aid for family planning has already received a blow this year, after the Trump administration reintroduced the ‘global gag rule’ – cutting off US overseas aid to organisations providing abortion services or information about them – and ended US support for UNFPA, the UN agency responsible for family planning support in developing countries.

Population and poverty

The importance of family planning in helping poor countries escape poverty has been underlined at a conference in Africa this week. Jesca Eryo, the Deputy Secretary-General of the East African Community – an intergovernmental organisation representing six east African nations – told an audience of ministers:

“If we don’t control the number of children we are giving birth to, poverty levels will grow. This requires re-alignment of policies, processes and systems and sharing of resources for coordinated actions.”

Take action

UPDATE: While Theresa May has now confirmed the Conservative Party commitment to 0.7%, not every party has yet done so and no manifestos have yet been published. If you are a UK citizen, please get in touch with the parties to ask them to make a commitment to the 0.7% policy in their manifestos and to commit to increasing spending on family planning aid in light of the US administration’s cuts. The current positions of the major parties are:

  • the Conservative Party supports the 0.7% commitment but will review priorities within the budget. Contact them here.
  • the Labour Party made a commitment to the 0.7% commitment in 2016. Contact them here.
  • UKIP supports a cut from 0.7% Contact them here.
  • the Liberal Democrats are “proud” that they helped introduce the policy. Contact them here.
  • the SNP has supported the principle of 0.7% of GNI for foreign aid. Contact them here.

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Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100

Population Matters is happy to be participating once again in the forthcoming Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 on Sunday 30th July. We are grateful to participants who last year raised over £2000. These funds help us to develop projects, campaigns and educational programmes to increase our impact!

Now is your chance to be a part of these efforts. We have five places available.

You get FREE entry, along with one of our fantastic t-shirts and a Prudential Ride magazine.

More details of the events here. If you would like to take part, please email us.

Deadline for registration is Friday May 26th.

We look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your support in making the world aware that population matters!

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Sydney hits 5 million as Australia continues to grow

Australa at nightAustralia’s two biggest cities – Melbourne and Sydney – account for more than half of the country’s population growth, new statistics for 2015-16 show. With Melbourne now its fastest growing city, sprawling suburbs of state capitals are Australia’s new boom towns

Demographer Mark McCrindle  outlined the scale and challenges of Australia’s population growth:

“For Sydney to grow – in less than a generation – from 1958 when it was two million, to now hit five is pretty phenomenal.

“Population growth is continually taking planners by surprise. We are sort of dealing with population growth we weren’t planning on. 

“Sydney is going to add a new Perth – two million people – to its population in the next 20 years. For Melbourne, [it’s] a 100,000 increase every single year … that sort of growth requires some significant infrastructure injection.”

No shortage of space but is Australia’s growth sustainable?

Australia’s population reached 24 million last year, with half of the annual growth driven by immigration (a lower proportion than in previous years). Its population is expected to hit 50m in 2086.

The largest single origin country of immigrants in Australia remains the UK, with over one million British-born people in the country.

While its population density is less than 1,000th that of Shanghai, Australia actually has the second highest per capita ecological footprint of any country (ecological footprint is a measure of how much natural resources are required to supply individuals needs and absorb the waste and emissions they produce). Australia is also the Earth’s driest continent and the effects of global warming threaten a water crisis by the end of the century, according to scientists.

Population Matters believes that a decent standard of life for all and a healthy, biodiverse environment can only be achieved if population and consumption are in line with natural resources. Find out more about population and why it matters.

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Help protect contraceptive services in England

As we reported in December, UK government funding cuts are leading to a reduction in the quantity and quality of contraceptive services being offered in England. The Family Planning Association has now launched a public petition calling on the government to protect those services. You can find out how to sign the petition and take further action to protect these vital services on our campaign page.

Contraceptive services are normally financed by local councils but a cut of £200 million in central government funding to councils for public health in 2015/16 has led to a reduction in services available. Further finance cuts are scheduled up until 2021.

In December, the Advisory Group on Contraception reported that a third of councils in England had cut, or were considering cutting the number of GP practices able to provide methods such as coils and implants and that a quarter of councils have shut or may close some of their contraceptive services.

When the cuts were announced in 2015, the UK’s Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Faculty of Public Health and the National Health Service (NHS) Confederation labelled them “a false economy”, whose consequences will be poorer public health, a likely increase in sexually-transmitted diseases and an extra burden on the NHS. In September 2016, the UK parliament’s Health Select Committee amplified that message and warned that the cuts threaten to worsen health inequalities.

Particularly at risk are long-acting reversible contraception, such as coils and implants, which are highly effective and have low failure rates. Specially trained practitioners are required to provide these, making the up-front costs for councils relatively high. A survey in 2012 found that 3.2 million women aged between 15 and 44 experienced restrictions in accessing contraception and Sexual and Reproductive Health services. Further cuts will increase the unmet need for these services.

Take action

You can support the campaign to defend the provision of these vital services by signing the FPA’s petition, contracting your local council and getting in touch with your MP. Information on how to do those is available on our Public Health Cuts campaign page.

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Challenges for access to safe abortion in Africa

The Africa Regional Conference on Abortion: From Research to Policy, which ended on 2 December, brought together more than 250 experts, activists and policymakers to examine progress in the field since Ethiopia introduced landmark legislation to ensure access to abortion in 2005. This week the conference issued a declaration commending significant positive developments over the last decade, but noting that approximately 90% of African women of childbearing age still live in countries with restrictive abortion laws.

The declaration states:

In Africa, more than eight million women have abortions each year, many of them unsafe. Each year, about 1.6 million women are treated for complications from unsafe abortion, and thousands more suffer complications but do not receive the treatment they need. Because so many abortions in the region are unsafe, roughly 16,000 maternal deaths annually are due to unsafe abortion. The consequences of unsafe abortion for women and their families, and for society as a whole, are significant and enduring. 

… Even where the law allows abortion under certain circumstances, few women, including survivors of sexual violence, are able to navigate the processes required to access a safe and legal procedure.

The declaration commits participants to hold governments to account to honour commitments to provide equal access to safe abortion and secure the necessary political support and resources. It also seeks to improve the evidence base for policy and ensure research is well disseminated.

Noting the importance incorporating the voices of young women into policy and programme design, the declaration concludes:

When women and girls are able to make their own sexual and reproductive health decisions, they can safeguard their health and achieve their educational, childbearing and career goals. We pledge to come together as a community of experts who share the commitment to expanding access to comprehensive and high-quality reproductive health care, including safe abortion. We will trust the women and girls of Africa so that they can fully realize their reproductive rights and achieve their potential.

Signatories to the declaration include the African Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the African Population and Health Research Center, Marie Stopes International and the Guttmacher Institute.

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The little operation with a big effect

18 November is World Vasectomy Day. This annual event aims to promote global awareness and use of male contraceptive methods, particularly the vasectomy operation.

Notorious rock wild man Ozzy Osborne (seen here in his family man guise) underwent a vasectomy, which was later reversed
Notorious rock wild man Ozzy Osborne (seen here in his family man guise) underwent a vasectomy, which was later reversed

This year, the flagship event of World Vasectomy Day will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, where panel discussions, interviews with patients and live entertainment take place. Elsewhere around the world, hundreds of sponsored vasectomies will take place, while a fundraising initiative will attempt to make the procedure more affordable for those in need.

Although World Vasectomy Day has facilitated hundreds of additional vasectomies since first officially taking place in 2013, its organisers maintain that their greatest achievement is not the number of procedures that take place, but rather the conversation and debate that World Vasectomy continues to inspire. This relates not only to individual choices about family size, but also to the global impact of those choices. At a time when human activity is driving the sixth mass extinction of plant and animal life on this planet, further protracted population growth is simply unsustainable. Yet in spite of this, the global population is projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050, and unless global fertility continuously falls over the next 34 years, that figure may turn out to be much higher.

In this context, the importance of family planning measures cannot be underestimated. Population Matters believes that greater use of family planning worldwide will not only help safeguard global biodiversity, but will also contribute to reduced levels of poverty in certain communities. As the organisers of World Vasectomy Day write, the aim of the procedure is “not to deny the joy of parenthood, but to increase the quality of life for children already here”. By promoting a lesser-known contraceptive measure, World Vasectomy Day raises crucial awareness of the effect that individual choices have on the future of our planet, and gives men worldwide a better chance to choose the kind of future they want.

And all of that, it seems, is available through a simple surgical procedure, which is safe, painless, and is over within 15 minutes.

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