Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Copenhagen Talks Not Just About Energy
By John Seager
ccun.org, December 27, 2009
As world leaders convene the Copenhagen climate talks,
discussion has focused on the need for wealthy countries to reduce
emissions. Far less attention has been paid to the inevitable reality that
emissions in the poorest parts of the world need to increase. And there
has been scant recognition of the role played by rapid population growth
in rising emissions worldwide.
President Obama is taking a bold
first step in Copenhagen by putting forward an ambitious emissions target
for the United States. Yet global population growth threatens to undercut
- even cancel - all progress. Global population may grow by 18% or more
from 2005 to 2020, according to UN projections.
emissions is actually three separate but related challenges.
must reduce global emissions. Second, we must slow population growth by
supporting programs such as voluntary family planning. Third, we must
recognize that about half the world now suffers from "carbon starvation"
and needs to increase emissions.
Historically, as population has
increased, emissions have also risen. Most emissions reductions must occur
in wealthier countries since that's where they are highest. At the same
time, in order to give billions of poor people a reasonable quality of
life, emissions in some parts of the world must increase significantly.
Rapid population growth makes this balancing act even more difficult.
Given available technology, the often-tiny carbon footprints of billions
of people are both a cause and an effect of impoverishment. The one
billion people who struggle to survive on less than $1/day use very little
in the way of fossil fuels. And the additional 1.6 billion living on less
than $2/day hardly use more. In order to have decent lives, they must
increase their emission levels substantially, despite advances in green
Much of sub-Saharan Africa is mired in the most
desperate, grinding poverty imaginable. Governments there are already
unable to meet the most basic needs of their citizens. And it is these
people - who contribute least to climate change - who will suffer most
from the problems that climate change brings. Women especially will face
new challenges to their health, livelihoods, and even their lives.
Africa's per-capita emissions must increase. But, if Africa's population
grows by the 39% that is projected by 2020, it will be nearly impossible
to create a healthy quality of life for people in that part of the world.
Population growth will undermine all efforts to achieve lower
carbon emissions unless investments in clean energy are matched by equally
comprehensive investments in universal access to contraception along with
other health and development programs.
As we develop hybrid cars
and the like, what about the other half of the world? Will they be left to
sweat and starve while we glide forward into a century of renewable
energy? Their carbon footprint needs to grow. That can only work if we are
willing to meet the population growth challenge.
This is one of
those times - and one of those issues - where we need to keep our eye on
multiple goals. Reducing emissions is an energy issue. But it is also in
equal measure a human rights challenge, one that must include
unprecedented investments in a full spectrum of reproductive health
services for women and couples. Worldwide, 200 million women have an unmet
need for family planning. And demand for contraception is projected to
increase by 40% in just 15 years.
If we fail to act on this
broader agenda, initiatives for reducing greenhouse gases will be swept
away by a tidal wave of population growth. The White House has already
made great strides in reversing the pernicious policies of the Bush
Administration which turned a blind eye to the needs of billions. But
additional bold action is needed.
No doubt President Obama is
keenly aware of the multiple dimensions of the climate challenge. Yes,
it's about energy. But, more than that, it is about meeting the basic
human needs of soon-to-be seven billion people. Universal access to family
planning must be a centerpiece of the climate change agenda in Copenhagen
(John Seager is president of Population
Connection, America's grassroots population organization. His email
address is email@example.com)