The Independent

When it comes to climate, we seem scared of the ‘P’ word


With extraordin­arily apt timing, the terrifying global “8 billion people day” arrived in the middle of the failed Cop27 in Egypt. It came just 11 years after the previous “7 billion day” in 2011. And the UN predicts we will pass 10 billion day by 2080.

We are adding 80 million to the global population annually. That is just under the population of Britain, Belgium and Ireland combined. All of these people will require land, water and other

resources to feed, house, wash, transport, clothe and more. Combined with exploding consumptio­n, the population explosion is pushing humanity over the climate and ecological crises cliffs.

The draft Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in April 2022 stated that “globally, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and population growth remained the strongest drivers of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the last decade”.

Between 2010 and 2019, growth in GDP per capita raised emissions by 2.3 per cent annually and population growth raised emissions by 1.2 per cent a year. So why is there a deathly silence from the climate movement and at Cop on the “P” word? The issue is a minefield due to past authoritar­ian crackdowns on women’s fertility in countries such as India and China, and because a minority on the left scream “eco-fascism” the moment it is mentioned.

But the solution to the population crisis is one that all NGOs can support. It is simply to ensure that all women have a universal right to voluntary family planning, education and economic independen­ce. When women are empowered, fertility rates dive to replacemen­t rates or below. This would help to reverse the ecological destructio­n wreaked since 1900, when the human population was just 1.5 billion.

The main opponents of such rights are patriarcha­l religions and, increasing­ly in the global North, nativist populists. These include those in the US, Hungary and Poland, where women’s reproducti­ve rights are targeted by the populist, racist far-right.

Donald Trump cut off US funding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN body promoting access for women to voluntary family planning. But the Sunak/Johnson government followed Trump with a devastatin­g 85 per cent cut.

To mark “8 billion day”, we asked political parties and leading environmen­tal NGOs two questions: “The IPCC says global GDP per capita and population growth are the strongest drivers of CO2 emissions. What actions do you think the government

should take?” And: “Do you back a reversal of the UK funding cut to the UNFPA?”

The solution to the population crisis is one that all NGOs can support. It is simply to ensure that all women have a universal right to voluntary family planning, education and economic independen­ce

Of those that answered, all omitted the “P” word, with the exception of Friends of the Earth, which called it a distractio­n. It told us: “The main drivers of environmen­tal destructio­n and climate breakdown are overconsum­ption and demand for energy. Focusing on population growth distracts from the need for action by rich countries to cut emissions.” But it did positively state that it was against all aid cuts, without mentioning the UNFPA.

FoE added: “A sustainabl­e society is about more than fairer shares of resources – it’s about sharing power, protecting rights and freedoms. All women and girls should have equal access to reproducti­ve healthcare, which is a fundamenta­l human right.”

Its website has a bizarre policy stating: “No reliable scientific estimates of sustainabl­e human population size exist, and such estimates would be provisiona­l and technology-dependent. Only focusing on population growth is not the most effective or just approach.” But nobody says that population is the only thing that needs to be addressed.

The problem is the opposite: almost nobody is advocating action on one of the top two drivers of climate and ecological destructio­n. Positively, Greenpeace did support the call to reverse the UK cut to the UNFPA, but was at pains to say this was due to support for women’s rights, rather than any impact it has on population. It said: “Giving women control over their

reproducti­ve cycle is crucial to their wellbeing and their communitie­s. We urge the UK government to rethink its cuts to the UNFPA. We support women’s reproducti­ve rights on their own merits, not just as a means to an end.”

The only environmen­tal NGO that addressed the IPCC report’s findings on both GDP and population was Population Matters, whose patrons include David Attenborou­gh, Jane Goodall & Partha Dasgupta.

Chief executive Robin Maynard told us: “The UNFPA cuts are devastatin­g, showing indifferen­ce to the world’s poorest. Twohundred and seventy million women worldwide lack access to or choice over safe family planning – a basic human right. Cruelly, the cuts mean millions more unintended pregnancie­s and ‘backstreet’ abortions, and thousands more maternal deaths.”

Maynard added: “Universal access to family planning and education for girls, according to Project Drawdown, would save more emissions than all offshore and onshore wind power combined.”

The WWF reply omitted any reference to population, choosing instead to urge more action by the UK government on emissions. Labour failed to provide any reply. The Lib Dems did reply, saying: “UK foreign aid is a matter of life and death. The government callously refuses to recognise this and the cuts to UNFPA are yet another example. Women’s rights remain under attack globally and the government is abandoning them.” Again, they left out the “P” word.

Since 1975, our global population has doubled from 4 billion to 8 billion, and carbon emissions have more than doubled from 17 billion tons of CO2 per annum to 37 billion tons per annum.

As our numbers have exploded, we have destroyed more than 70 per cent of our fellow species’ population­s since 1970. Millions of women and men all over the world are already limiting family sizes as they realise the existentia­l destructiv­eness of the population explosion. So please email your Tory or Labour MP and demand they support restoratio­n of the UNFPA funding, so that all women have the right to voluntaril­y do the same.

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 ?? (Getty/iStock) ?? The issue is a minefie l d due to past authoritar­ian crackdowns on women’s ferti l ity in countries such as I ndia and China
(Getty/iStock) The issue is a minefie l d due to past authoritar­ian crackdowns on women’s ferti l ity in countries such as I ndia and China
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