The second week of negotiations here in Copenhagen has been marked by dramatic events, as the deadline for a new global agreement to address climate change approaches.
Blocs of negotiators from developing countries have walked out, and returned. Thousands of NGO representatives who have been denied access to the proceedings are shivering in the cold. Observers inside the Bella Center have staged sit-ins. And yet slivers of hope remain for some form of a global deal that is fair, ambitious, and binding as negotiators prepare for the arrival of more than 100 heads of state on Friday.
Amid this chaos, there is encouraging evidence that voices of those advocating for increased attention to the role of population and reproductive health and rights in climate change responses are being heard.
This afternoon, in a side event organized by Iceland on “Women as Agents of Change,” Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs announced new funding for the United Nations Population Fund in the amount of $5.9 million, stating:
“The combination of climate change and high population growth adds to the pressure on resources in many developing countries. Population growth puts tremendous pressure on a sustainable management of natural resources, which indicates an indirect link between climate change and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights…More than 200 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy, but do not have access to modern contraception. It is crucial that we accelerate our efforts to meet these unmet needs.”
At a closed-door meeting yesterday, more than 50 members of parliament (MPs) from developed and developing countries discussed the role of voluntary family planning programs in reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Hosted by the Population and Climate Change Alliance, a collective including Population Action International (PAI) and other NGOs working together to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights as critical components of climate change responses, the event encouraged informal, frank discussions among MPs about the opportunities to bring population into the Copenhagen conference.
Earlier in the week, the issue of reproductive health got a worthy boost during a high-level panel marking the close of “Development and Climate Days,” a parallel conference outside the negotiating venue. President Nasheed of Maldives, Tanzania’s Minister for Environment Batilda Burian, and Kenya’s Minister for Water and Irrigation Charity Kaluki Ngilu, and other panelists identified what the most vulnerable countries need out of Copenhagen to help them adapt to climate change. Minister Ngilu unequivocally stated that reproductive health should be central to development and climate change efforts in these countries. In Kenya, where the population has grown rapidly, she asserted that reproductive health should be a key strategy to help cope with development challenges, including climate change, by ensuring that “women are empowered and have control of their health needs, including desired family sizes.”
Nobel Laureate and chairman of the IPCC Rajendra Kumar Pachauri also recognized the importance of reproductive health. At a United Nations Foundation event on UNFPA’s State of the World report, “Facing a changing world: women, population and climate,” Pachauri and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, noted that issues of gender and population are back on the global agenda. Robinson pointed out that the report’s focus on women’s lives will be an important stepping stone in 2010.
Pachauri remarked that issues of population and consumption are “critical to actions related to global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation” and that the intersection of these issues affects both industrialized and developing countries. Unfair distribution and aggregate levels of consumption leave the world’s poor vulnerable, he said, and resources for health care, education, and social services should be mobilized to address inequities and fertility.
Looking forward, Pachauri called on countries to examine issues of population and consumption, provided that industrialized leaders demonstrate the necessary global leadership at COP-15 and other forums.
While the outcome from these two weeks of negotiations remains foggy, it has become eminently clear that issues of population, reproductive health, family planning, and gender equity have gained a strong foothold in discussions on the global response to climate change. Despite the hours we have spent shivering in the cold, our voices are resonating in the halls of the Bella Center, and will continue to call for comprehensive solutions in Copenhagen and beyond.