Population Matters

Development lobby “disgrace” on population

Development lobby “disgrace” on population

The Optimum Population Trust today criticises development groups for “wilfully misinterpreting” its recently launched PopOffsets initiative, under which individuals can offset their carbon emissions by funding family planning services in the developing world.

It describes the response of parts of the development lobby to the initiative as “frankly disgraceful”, adding: ”The world badly needs a grown-up, rational discussion of the population issue…without blame, abuse and hysteria.”

OPT chairman Roger Martin said PopOffsets, launched earlier this month and thought to be the first carbon offsetting scheme to channel funds into family planning, had received much praise, but also some wilful misinterpretation. Oxfam’s head of research, for instance, had described the scheme as tantamount to “blaming the victims” he said.

Mr. Martin said: “OPT aims to address the whole problem of climate change, not just part of it. No-one challenges the ‘IPAT’ formula: Impact = Affluence (consumption) x Population x Technology. The whole climate debate hitherto, however, has focused solely on consumption and technology. OPT sees that addressing all three is essential to success; and thus seeks to give due weight to population as well. It is a simple fact that all population growth increases the number both of carbon-emitters (with far greater footprints in developed than developing countries) and of climate change victims – we are all in different degrees both. So all population growth makes all the problems of both mitigation and adaptation harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve. It is a climate change issue. Yet the fact that none of the negotiators has yet mentioned the 1.3 billion extra emitters and victims since the Rio Earth Summit illustrates the damaging taboo that some critics seem anxious to preserve.

”PopOffsets aims to help solve the immediate issue of the 200 million women world-wide with an unmet need for family planning services. This is a humanitarian and developmental effort to reduce poverty by respecting human rights, and empowering women everywhere to take control of their own fertility. And the fact that it will also help to ease all the global problems of climate change, for a modest proportion of the available funding, four times more cost-effectively than the conventional techno-solutions, is a strong additional argument for greatly increased funding.

“It has long been scandalous that the universal provision of good female education and reproductive healthcare – one of the original millennium development goals – remains grossly underfunded. This is in large part due to the policies of President George Bush, with whom our critics seem to identify. The number of pregnancy-related deaths is the equivalent of four Boeing 747s full of pregnant women crashing every day, many in agony after unsafe abortions to which they have been forced in desperation to resort, because the safe alternative of contraception is not available.

“Ninety-five per cent of the poorest countries have identified rapid population growth as a significant factor inhibiting their development and keeping their people poor, because they recognise the obvious fact that prosperity (GDP per capita) equals GDP growth minus population growth. It is frankly disgraceful of our critics from the development lobby to attack our efforts to help these countries. Our family planning approach to climate change is a classic economic, social and environmental ‘win, win, win’. Not only will it reduce poverty: it will also cut the number of climate change victims and the amount of carbon emitted in the future as smaller, more prosperous populations develop faster.

“Of course OPT agrees that the top priority for Copenhagen is for the rich to reduce their huge and wasteful energy consumption. We also advocate the adoption of population restraint policies by all countries, starting with the UK – we know that each unwanted British birth prevented saves as much carbon as 22 more Malawians. But in rich countries, the refusal to do so is a matter only of lack of political will. In poor countries, it stems from lack of money. PopOffsets will help them with that; and we urge the rich countries at Copenhagen to follow suit.”

Mr. Martin added: “The world badly needs a grown-up, rational discussion of the population issue among equal partners, without blame, abuse and hysteria, addressing a common problem in our mutual interest.”

OPT’s Copenhagen briefing note sets out its aims for the climate summit in more detail.