Carolyn Vogel, Vice President of Programs, and Karen Hardee, Vice President for Research, report on the Strategic Workshop “SRHR-Population-Environmental Degradation-Climate Change” in Istanbul, Turkey.
We met in Istanbul for two more or less unstructured days of discussion around the emerging issue of population, environmental degradation and climate change. Coming together as like-minded organizations in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including voluntary family planning, we struggled to get our heads around the complicated linkage between these pressing and timely issues. That we all felt compelled to talk and needed to voice our ideas, confusions, and brainstorms was evident when at the end of each and every session, facilitators struggled to close and wrap-up (we wouldn’t stop talking). Those discussions then dominated our “out of meeting time” in local restaurants and cobbled streets of the Sultanahmet. In Istanbul, every conversation and presentation was completely new territory for many of the participants.
Is fertility the nexus between SRHR, population growth, and climate
change? Will increasing access to voluntary family planning that
respects individual rights contribute to slowed population growth and
eventual population stabilization? Local communities may not
understand climate change, but they do understand environmental
degradation. When examining or calculating our ecological footprint,
population is a multiplier. Framing the population and climate change
debate is relevant to a multitude of lenses: justice and equity,
health, poverty, urbanization, migration, disaster relief, gender,
ethics, security, youth, deforestation, food security, and many more.
What are the ethical implications of linking population and
environment? We are ethically obligated to acknowledge the role of
consumption in climate change – but to what extent, given that our
organizational mandates are SRHR (including voluntary family planning)
Under current population growth conditions in many poor countries,
governments have to run very fast just to stand still in terms of
meeting people’s needs. Do all of the components of SRHR link with
climate change or just family planning? Much more research and analysis
is needed. Did you know that Hungary now has an ombudsman for future
generations? Do reproductive health services or demographic change
itself impact a community’s resilience to the effects of climate
change? The term “overpopulation” is based on perception. Are the terms
demographic dynamics or population stabilization better to promote
dialogue on the issue? Is the principle of subsidiarity applicable to
this debate – where decisions should be made at the lowest possible
level at which they can be effectively made and by those who suffer the
consequences of an action? When we leave the debate unframed, we leave
space for harmful discourse to take center stage.
As you can see, we perhaps raised more questions than we answered.
However, we all agreed that the links between population, climate
change and environmental degradation are complex, involve ethical
considerations, must be approached through different lenses, need more
attention and analysis and are difficult to talk about. We also agreed
that individuals and couples deserve universal access to family
planning and reproductive health, provided in a way that respects their
rights to determine how many children they have and when. That will
help people and countries and, hopefully, the planet.
Carolyn Vogel, Vice President of Programs
Karen Hardee, Vice President for Research
Photo of Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan (WHO, Geneva) and Karen Hardee (PAI) taken by Carolyn Vogel (PAI).