Under the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the nations of the world have made pledges known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). These represent countries’ proposals to adapt to and mitigate (limit) global warming. A new publication assesses the NDCs’ treatment of population growth and family planning.
by The Overpopulation Project
To date, policy analysis of the NDCs has focused on the insufficiency of their voluntary mitigation commitments to achieve the stated goal of the UNFCC: limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 or 2 °C. A new publication from Jenna Dodson and colleagues at the Overpopulation Project, “Population growth, family planning and the Paris Agreement,” assesses their treatment of population growth and family planning.
Population growth is directly related to climate adaptation and mitigation as a driver of both climate risks and climate-altering emissions. Our new publication asks which countries explicitly include impacts of population growth in their NDCs, what are the most common impacts they identify, and what actions or strategies, if any, are proposed to slow population growth.
Of the 164 climate plans collectively submitted by 191 countries by August, 2018, 49 countries identified at least one impact of population growth in their NDC (Fig. 1). A large majority of these “population inclusive” NDCs were submitted by countries in less developed regions and almost half were submitted by countries in Africa.
The most common impacts of population growth identified in the NDCs were related to energy use and security, natural resource degradation and demand, vulnerability and resilience, agricultural expansion and food security, and water security. Many countries with high population growth rates neglected to include the impacts of population growth in their NDCs. Of the 30 countries that had the highest annual population growth rates and also submitted NDCs, 16 out of 30 were population exclusive.
Of 49 population inclusive NDCs, only 7 included an action or strategy to slow population growth (Fig. 2). These actions or strategies were primarily adaptation measures, national development priorities, or means of NDC implementation. Tunisia was the only country to include a population related measure as a mitigation action.
Two of the seven NDCs (Mauritius and Uganda) included strategies to slow population growth. The other five parties described ambiguous population efforts, or included a population goal but provided no implementation measures. Niger, with the fastest growing population in the world, was the only country to include a specific population growth reduction target.
Overall, only a minority of countries identified population growth as a factor influencing their ability to limit emissions and prepare for climate impacts. Furthermore, no NDCs discussed family planning in a detailed or robust way, despite its importance to successful climate adaptation. And the few NDCs that included strategies to address population growth did so in a vague manner.
The results of this study are discouraging, but not surprising. As we blunder into a warmer and more uncertain future, improving access to contraception and encouraging smaller families remain effective strategies to limit the damage we are doing and protect our descendants from its worst impacts. Politicians, take note!