"Population, development, and climate should be a single discussion," explained Jacques van Zuydam of South Africa's National Population Unit. Van Zuydam, speaking to a sparsely filled room at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa, centers his work around the concept that climate matters because people matter.
Given the focus on the Green Climate Fund, climate change adaptation, and the effects of sea level rise and changing weather patterns on some of the world's most vulnerable populations, it would have made sense for discussions about population to play a central role at the 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17) in December. Yet despite these obvious links - and lead negotiator Jonathan Pershing's admission to the US youth delegation that population plays a central role when discussing climate impacts - the issue gained little traction in the formal negotiations.
Pershing considers population "too controversial" to play a role in the international climate talks, and recommended raising the issue elsewhere. But where better to talk about the need for increased access to voluntary family planning services than among a group of world leaders considering solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change? As Brian O’Neill and his colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research explain in a 2010 paper, meeting the unmet need for contraceptive services could reduce emissions in 2050 by 1.4–2.5 billion tons of carbon (GtC) per year, or 16-29 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to avoid dangerous changes to our climate. And beyond the potential effects on carbon, increasing access to education and family planning resources will have a huge impact on the ability of women and families to adapt to the effects of climate change that are already altering weather patterns, water availability, and agricultural production around the globe.