UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2009

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“We have read the science. Global warming is real, and we are a prime cause. . . .
We must set an agenda—create a roadmap to the future, coupled with a timeline that produces a deal by 2009. In this, it helps to have a vision of how the future might look if we succeed.”
—BAN Ki-moon (1)
Digging for snails in a dried lake bed
in Thailand.
© Werachai Wansamngan/UNEP/Still Pictures

Climate—the average of weather over time—is always changing, but never in known human experience more dramatically than it is likely to change in the coming century. For millennia, since civilizations arose from ancient farming societies, the earth's climate as a whole was relatively stable, with temperatures and patterns of rainfall that have supported human life and its expansion around the globe.

A growing body of evidence shows that recent climate change is primarily the result of human activity. The influence of human activity on climate change is complex. It is about what we consume, the types of energy we produce and use, whether we live in a city or on a farm, whether we live in a rich or poor country, whether we are young or old, what we eat, and even the extent to which women and men enjoy equal rights and opportunities. It is also about our growing numbers—approaching 7 billion.

As the growth of population, economies and consumption outpaces the earth's capacity to adjust, climate change could become much more extreme—and conceivably catastrophic. Population dynamics tell one part of a larger, more intricate story about the way some countries and people have pursued development and defined progress and about how others have had little say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Climate change's influence on people is also complex, spurring migration, destroying livelihoods, disrupting economies, undermining development and exacerbating inequities between the sexes.

Climate change is about people.

People cause climate change. People are affected by it. People need to adapt to it. And only people have the power to stop it.

Not all people or countries, however, are created equal when it comes to the greenhouse-gas emissions that are warming our atmosphere. Until now, the industrialized countries generated the lion's share of climate-altering carbon and other gases but have been relatively immune to the effects of climate change. The developing world has been responsible for a smaller share of greenhouse-gas emissions yet is already having to shoulder more of the burden for coping with and adapting to extreme weather events, rising sea levels, floods and drought. The industrialized countries created most of the problem, but the world's poor will face the biggest problems in adapting to it. And, if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, there may be little room left in the atmosphere for poor countries to develop economically through the same carbon-intensive energy patterns the industrialized countries relied upon in their own development over the last two centuries.

[1] Melting glaciers jeopardize water supply for subsistence farmers and mega-cities

Leucadia Quispe harvests oca on her tiny plot in rural Botijlaca, Bolivia. She says there is less water for irrigation every year.
© Trygve Olfarnes/UNFPA

On the icy slopes and plains leading down from the Huayna Potosi and Chacaltaya mountains lies a string of tiny communities that eke out a living by keeping llamas, sheep and chickens and growing small crops of potatoes and oca, a perennial plant grown in the central and southern Andes. In some parts, the slopes they cultivate are so steep that farming seems like a gravity-defying act.

The glaciers that used to provide generous amounts of crystal clear water to the communities have shrunk dramatically over the past 15 to 20 years, affecting people in large and small ways—from the disruption of water supplies for urban centres like the sprawling and poor city of El Alto and Bolivia's capital, La Paz, to the closure of the ski slopes of Chacaltaya, a glacier now reduced to a small chunk of snow and ice nestled just below the 18,000-foot summit.

Nearly all of the world's so-called tropical glaciers are located in the Andes. About 20 per cent of them are in Bolivia.

According to Bolivia's Ministry of Water and the Environment, glaciers in the country's Cordillera Real diminished by 84 square kilometres, or 24 per cent, between 1987 and 2004, and the disintegration continues.

Leucadia Quispe, born and raised in the Botijlaca community in the foothills of both Chacaltaya and Huayna Potosi, is just one of many Bolivians affected by this environmental crisis. Leucadia grows potatoes and oca in what must be one of the harshest climates in South America. She is 60 years old and has eight children, only one of whom remains in Botijlaca. The other seven have migrated to other parts of the country, "because there is no way to make a living here."

Every day she wakes up at 4 a.m. and boils water to make chamomile tea. Breakfast is caya—oca that has been soaked in water wells for two months. For lunch, the family eats oca, potatoes and sometimes llama meat or mutton.

She says the family has to carry water from the river for their own use as well as for irrigation of their crops. "There is less water now," she says. "We used to be able to get water for irrigation from the streams that came down from the Huayna Potosi glacier, but the streams are no longer there, so now we have to collect water from a river farther up in the valley."

She now spends hours hauling water in five-litre containers, one in each hand. The dwindling water supply also results in less fodder for her llamas and sheep, and some of her llamas have already starved to death, she says.

What is a climate change?

The earth's surface is warming. The temperature increase since the late 1800s may seem small—0.74 degrees Celsius—but the impact on people is likely to be profound. The impact will be even greater as temperatures continue rising, by as much as 6.4 degrees Celsius by 2100. As temperatures rise, weather patterns shift with potentially catastrophic consequences, especially for the world's poor.

A rapid and large build-up of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere is almost certainly to blame for most or all the temperature increase. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, with methane a close second. Such greenhouse gases occur naturally and serve to retain some of the sun's warmth. Without a "greenhouse effect," the earth's surface would be too cold to sustain life. But because the greenhouse gases that are naturally in the atmosphere have been augmented by those resulting from human activity, the equilibrium that keeps the earth at a relatively constant temperature has been disrupted. Since the Industrial Revolution, intense burning of wood, charcoal, coal, oil, and gas has resulted in increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Rice-growing, livestock-raising, and burning organic wastes have more than doubled methane concentrations. The use of artificial fertilizers, made possible by techniques developed in the early 20th century, has released large amounts of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide, into air and water. And since the 1920s, industry has used a number of man-made carbon compounds for refrigeration and fire suppression. Some of these compounds have been found to be very powerful greenhouse gases.

Future climate change will depend largely on how fast greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere. That in turn will depend on how much is emitted and on how much nature is able to absorb. Since 2000, "anthropogenic" or human-caused carbon-dioxide emissions have been increasing four times faster than in the previous decade. Most of the emissions came from burning fossil fuels.(2)

At the same time, natural carbon "sinks" that absorb some of our emissions are unable to perform this function with their former efficiency. The main carbon sinks are the oceans, frozen tracts in the Arctic, and forests, all of which are losing their capacity to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.


Climate change has the potential to reverse the hard-earned development gains of the past decades and the progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals, according to the World Bank.(3) Setbacks will result from water scarcities, intense tropical storms and storm surges, floods, loss of glacial meltwater for irrigated agriculture, food shortages and health crises.

Climate change threatens to worsen poverty or burden marginalized and vulnerable groups with additional hardships. In Southeast Asia, for example, about 221 million people already live below the $2-a-day poverty line.(4) Many of the region's poor live in coastal areas and in low-lying deltas, and many of these poor people are smallholder farmers or people who earn their living from the seas. Poor households are especially vulnerable to climate change because their marginal income provides little or no access to health services or other safety nets to protect against the threats from changing conditions and because they lack the resources to relocate when crises strike. Some of the possible direct threats that climate change could pose on the region's poor include death and illness resulting from extreme heat, unusual cold, infectious diseases and malnutrition.

Also as a result of climate change, sea levels will rise, threatening low-lying, densely populated coastal areas and small island states. Indonesia, for example, could lose as many as 2,000 small islands by 2030 as a result of rising seas.(5)

Climate change will not only endanger lives and undermine livelihoods, but it threatens to exacerbate the gaps between rich and poor and amplify the inequities between women and men.

Women—particularly those in poor countries—will be affected differently than men. They are among the most vulnerable to climate change, partly because in many countries they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities. Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters. Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes. Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. This cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality undermines the social capital needed to deal effectively with climate change.

[2] Women take the brunt of climate change

Filipina farmer Trinidad Domingo views the coming rice harvest season with trepidation. A typhoon destroyed much of her crop, and Domingo estimates that her two-hectare plot will produce less than the usual 200 sacks of rice.

Typhoons are a part of life for most Filipino farmers but they know how to minimize losses brought on by heavy rains. Domingo starts tilling rice as early as June and July—the start of the wet season. By planting early, she can avoid most rain damage. But this year, Domingo couldn't plant until August, as the wet season started late.

"This is really a problem for me as I invested a lot of money, about PhP 60,000 ($1,250), for this cropping season. I may not be able to repay my loan and my family may really need to tighten belts," she said. Domingo heads an extended family that includes siblings and their numerous children.

A lean rice harvest threatens her family's food security. She is also hard pressed to find the money to repay loans and buy other necessities.

Erratic weather events are causing problems for farmers like Domingo. The increased frequency of heat waves, floods and drought are believed to have drastically reduced both agricultural and fishery output, and raised food prices.

This, in turn, increases the burden for women and girls, as they are the ones expected to ensure that there is enough food for the family, according to Ines Smyth, Gender Advisor of Oxfam in the United Kingdom.

Speaking at a conference in Manila in October on gender and climate change, Smyth noted that owing to higher food prices, "women substitute time for cash. They take on extra work, even if they're poorly paid." The four-day conference was organized by the Centre for Asia-Pacific Women in Politics and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In coastal areas, among the fishing communities of the Philippines, women are now grappling with the harsh impact of climate change, according to a report presented by the Centre for Empowerment and Resource Development, Inc. (CERD), a Manila-based non-governmental organization that implements community-based coastal resource management.

"The decline in fish catch puts additional burden on the women. Aside from their household chores and participation in fishing activity, they have to find additional sources of income like working as domestic helpers for more affluent families," CERD's project development officer, Marita P. Rodriguez, said.

By Prime Sarmiento. Excerpts reprinted with permission from the Inter Press News Agency, October 2008

Health effects

In May 2009, The Lancet medical journal called climate change "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century."(6) The "epidemiological outcome of climate change on disease patterns worldwide will be profound, especially in developing countries, where existing vulnerabilities to poor health remain." The incidence of vector-borne diseases, for example, will increase. Millions of additional people may be affected by malaria, as rising temperatures allow disease-carrying mosquitoes to live in higher altitudes. In addition, rising temperatures are likely to generate heat-related stress, increasing short-term mortality rates from heatstroke. Also, changing rainfall and temperature over the next decades are likely to make provision of clean water and good sanitation "more complicated than it is now."

But The Lancet also notes that climate change will interact with population growth in ways that put "additional stress on already-weak health systems" and will exacerbate vulnerability to the adverse health effects of climate change. "The damage done to the environment by modern society is perhaps one of the most inequitable health risks of our time," The Lancet explains, noting that the "carbon footprint" of the poorest 1 billion people is about 3 per cent of the world's total footprint. Still, it is the poor who bear the disproportionate brunt of our changing climate.(9) "Loss of healthy life years as a result of global environmental change—including climate change—is predicted to be 500 times greater in poor African populations than in European populations."

The World Health Organization estimates that in 2000 some 150,000 excess deaths were occurring annually—in extreme heat waves, storms, or similar events—as a result of climate change that had occurred since the 1970s.(10)


"Large-scale population movement is likely to intensify as changing climate leads to the abandonment of flooded or arid and inhospitable environments," according to The Lancet. "The resulting mass migration will lead to many serious health problems both directly, from the various stresses of the migration process, and indirectly, from the possible civil strife that could be caused by chaotic movement of people."

Millions of people now living in low-lying coastal areas may need to leave their homes if sea levels rise as predicted by most climate-change experts. Protracted and severe droughts may drive more farmers from rural areas to cities to seek new livelihoods. Residents of urban slums in flood-prone areas may migrate to rural areas to escape danger. And in some instances, gradual environmental degradation may erase income-earning opportunities, driving some across national boundaries.

The reasons for which people migrate or seek refuge are complex, making it hard to forecast how climate change will affect the future of migration. Climate change nonetheless seems likely to become a major force for future population movement, probably mostly through internal displacement but also to some extent through international migration.

[3] Glossary

Adaptation refers to preparing for and coping with the impacts of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this term refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.

Climate is the average of weather over time.

Climate change, for the purposes of this report, refers to the alteration of the earth's climate caused by the atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, as a result of human activity. Greenhouse gases absorb solar heat and warm the earth's surface. The terms "anthropogenic," "human-induced" and "human-caused" sometimes precede "climate change," as a reminder that almost all the climate change discussed in this report is occurring or is considered likely to occur beyond natural oscillations.

Gender refers to the array of socially conditioned expectations and learned roles of how females and males in any society interact, live their lives and work. Gender extends beyond women and girls and includes men and boys and the relationships between the sexes. Gender determines what is expected, permitted and valued in a woman or a man in a determined context.

Gender equality is the concept that all humans—men and women—are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles or prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men are the same, but rather, that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.(7)

Mitigation refers to tackling the causes of climate change through actions that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions or help remove gases from the atmosphere through, for example, carbon sequestration by trees and soils.

Population dynamics are the changing characteristics of the number of human beings worldwide or in any specified geographic area, including size, rate of growth, density, geographic distribution (including flows of people within countries and across borders), and age structure (relative proportions of a population in specified age groups).

Reproductive health has been defined by the World Health Organization as a state of physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system at all stages of life. Reproductive health implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this are the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, and the right to appropriate health-care services that enable women to safely go through pregnancy and childbirth. Reproductive health care is defined as the constellation of methods, techniques, and services that contribute to reproductive health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive health problems.(8)

Weather refers to meteorological conditions in any one place at any one time.

People and climate change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has supported the scientific conclusion that human-caused increases in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are very likely the cause of most of the temperature increases the world has experienced since the middle of the 20th century. The Panel consists of more than 2,000 scientists and other experts from around the world and is sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization.

Greenhouse gases would not be accumulating so hazardously had the number of earth's inhabitants not increased so rapidly, but remained at 300 million people, the world population of 1,000 years ago, compared with 6.8 billion today.(11) The connection between population growth and the accumulation of greenhouse gases has barely featured in the scientific and diplomatic discussions so far. One reason for this is that population growth and what, if anything, should be done about it, have long been difficult, controversial and divisive topics. The dominant responsibility for the current build-up of greenhouse gases lies with developed countries whose population growth and fertility rates, while fairly high in earlier centuries, have now mostly subsided to the point where family sizes of two or fewer children are the norm. The vast majority of the world's population growth today occurs in developing countries, whose contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions is historically far less than those of the developed countries. However, emissions from some large developing countries are now growing rapidly as a result of their carbon-intensive industrialization and changing patterns of consumption, as well as their current demographic growth.(12)

Drought-stricken area of Kenya. Changes in rainfall patterns threaten food production in many parts of Africa and other regions.
© AFP/Getty Images

Beyond the projections of computerized climate models and the scenarios of the future presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, common sense alone suggests that a continually shifting climate will stress societies and individuals, especially those already most at risk, and will exacerbate existing inequalities.

The importance of the speed and magnitude of recent population growth in boosting future greenhouse-gas emissions is well recognized among scientists, including the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's reports. Slower population growth in both developed and developing countries may help ease the task of bringing global emissions into balance with the atmosphere in the long run and enabling more immediate adaptation to change already under way. The extent to which slower population growth will matter, however, depends on the future of world economic, technological and consumption trends. The role of population growth in the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions is far from the only demographic linkage salient to climate change. Household composition is one such variable that affects the amount of greenhouse gases thrust into the atmosphere. At least one study has shown that per capita energy consumption of smaller households is significantly higher than that of larger households.(13) Some evidence suggests that changes in age structure and geographic distribution—the trend toward living in cities, for example—may affect emissions growth. Population dynamics are likely to influence greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run. In the immediate future, population dynamics will affect countries' capacities to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Current regimes of consumption, especially in industrialized countries, already stretch the limits of sustainability. Legitimate development aspirations in less-developed regions, which already make up more than four-fifths of the world's current population, complicate this conundrum. Improved access to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, is essential for individual welfare and accelerates the stabilization of population, according to a group of climate-change and population experts in London in June 2009.(14) Major achievements in family planning have in the past had significant impacts on slowing population growth, and slower population growth in some countries has bought more time to prepare adaptation plans for the coming impacts of climate change.

Gender: the underrepresented variable

Relations between the sexes and attention to the specific needs of each have until recently gained little attention by those charged with addressing global climate change. The word "gender" found no mention in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).However, after generally omitting gender in treaty language and international deliberations, the UNFCCC's secretariat in December 2008 formally recognized at the 14th Conference of the Parties in Poznan´, Poland: "the gender dimension of climate change and its impacts are likely to affect men and women differently." The secretariat urged formulation of "gender inclusive policy measures to address climate change" and stressed that women "are important actors" and "agents of change" in coping and adaptation. The secretariat also named a gender coordinator and a group of "gender focal points" assigned to assure gender is brought into three of the UNFCCC programme areas.(15)

Gender refers to the differences in socially constructed roles and opportunities associated with being a man or a woman and the interactions and social relations between men and women. Gender is not only about women. Policies that aim to address any aspect of climate change will be less effective if they fail to take into account the differences between men, women, boys and girls. Gender-blind policies may exacerbate the problems associated with climate change by widening inequalities between the sexes.(16) Special attention may be required to compensate for inequalities that women currently face.

Given women's significant engagement in food production and preparation and the potential for land use to contribute to climate-change solutions in developing countries, the close connection between gender, farming and climate change deserves far more analysis than it currently receives. Because of greater poverty, lesser power over their own lives, less recognition of their economic productivity and their disproportionate burden in reproduction and child-raising, women face additional challenges as climate changes. The recent experiences of natural disasters—some logically related to climate change, others clearly not (See Box 4: What do tsunamis have to do with climate change?)—indicate that women are more likely to lose their lives and otherwise fare worse than men in extreme events from heat waves to hurricanes and tsunamis.

In Bonn in June 2009, a negotiating text drafted by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC reflected the growing recognition of the importance of gender in the climate-change debate. The text included 13 references to gender, 17 references to women, and one reference to the Convention on the Eradication of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Greater participation of women in the climate issue—whether as scientists, community activists, or negotiators at conferences of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change parties—can only benefit society's response to climate change by adding to the diversity of perspectives on how to address the challenge of climate change. This participation, in turn, can be aided by improving women's legal and social equality with men and their equal enjoyment of human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health and the determination of whether and when to bear children.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among the thousands of pages of its assessment reports, devoted one half page of text in 2007 to the issue of "gender aspects of vulnerability and adaptive capacity" in response to climate change and comparable natural disasters. Women, the box noted, "are disproportionately involved in natural resource-dependent activities, such as agriculture, compared to salaried occupations." Moreover, the "disproportionate amount of the burden endured by women during rehabilitation [from weather-related disasters] has been related to their roles in the reproductive sphere." The text concluded that the influence of gender in resilience to climate change impacts is "an important consideration" in developing interventions for adaptation, that gender differences related to adaptation "reflect wider patterns of structural gender inequality," and that a policy shift toward "more proactive capacity-building" was needed to reduce gender inequality.(17) Women, in fact, rarely make up more than about 15 per cent of the authors of the Panel's assessment reports.

[4] What do tsunamis have to do with climate change?

Because there is so little current or reliable research on many aspects of climate change, scientists must sometimes look at climate-change proxies for insights into how climate change affects women, men, boys and girls differently, or how each sex responds or adapts to natural disasters. Proxies are events that resemble climate change in some details.

Periodically, this report uses extreme events of many kinds as proxies. It considers the impacts of storms (which may be related to climate change), tsunamis (which clearly are not) and comparable natural disasters as one method of envisioning how climate change may affect migration, health, income-earning opportunities and gender relations in the coming years.

Recent action

To arrive collectively at a set of agreements to accomplish the goals of climate change mitigation (reducing emissions or otherwise lowering atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases) and adaptation (minimizing social and economic disruption from climate change impacts), most of the world's nations have ratified the UNFCCC. The treaty, which entered into force in 1994, calls on the world's nations to "achieve stabilization of greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner."

The treaty recognizes the obligations countries have, not just to their own citizens but to future generations, and acknowledges the obligation of protecting the climate system "on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed-country parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof."(18) It was to act on these principles that most nations ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, designed to cap greenhouse-gas emissions by developed nations through 2012. The UNFCCC encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize greenhouse-gas emissions, while the Kyoto Protocol committed them to do so.

[5] Population and adaptation

Thirty-seven of the 41 National Adaptation Programmes of Action, or NAPAs, that developing-country Governments had submitted to the UNFCCC by May 2009 explicitly link climate change and population and identify rapid population growth as a problem that either exacerbates the effects of climate change or hinders the ability of countries to adapt to it.(19) Through the preparation of NAPAs, the least developed countries state their priorities and needs for adapting to climate change. The growth of population can contribute to freshwater scarcity or degradation of cropland, which may in turn exacerbate the impacts of climate change. So too can population growth make it more difficult for Governments to alleviate poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Agenda for positive change

Climate experts and Government officials from all over the world will converge in Copenhagen in December 2009 for the 15th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC to hammer out a new international agreement that could lead to a cooler planet in the long run. Such an agreement would reduce emissions globally and equitably, build resilience to a changing climate, especially in those countries that have contributed the least to climate change but are most vulnerable to its impacts, and mobilize public and political will to accomplish these tasks in ways that all nations can support in the long run. Negotiations will also address the need for financing and technology transfer to developing countries.

But what Governments must anticipate and prepare for today are the stresses climate change is likely to add to the already-challenging business of advancing development, alleviating poverty, assuring access to education and health care, and moving toward gender equality. Successful approaches to climate change are much more likely to emerge in the context of sustainable economic and social development, respect for human rights and cultural diversity, the empowerment of women and access to reproductive health for all.

Specific measures to address the problem must, however, be based on fact, not frenzy. Gaps in research on many of the effects of—and solutions to—climate change must be filled before it is too late.

The complex nature and momentum of human-induced climate change suggest three areas of action needed now, with immediate, near-term and long-term benefits.

Adaptation, now and for the duration: Some climate change has already taken place, and global temperatures are rising, so we have no choice but to adapt to the changes we face now and to anticipate those we can expect in the future. As temperatures are projected to rise for decades, and sea levels perhaps for centuries, learning to adapt and become more resilient to ongoing changes in climate is both an immediate and a long-term task. Adaptation, however, is not something that donor countries, banks or corporations can somehow bequeath to developing countries. Although financing and the transfer of technology and knowledge are essential to the effort, successful and lasting adaptation must arise from the lives, experience and wisdom of those who are themselves adapting. In the words of Byllye Avery, founder and former executive director of the National Black Women's Health Imperative in the United States, "When you are lifting a heavy basket, you must lift from the bottom."

Immediate mitigation: Without halting the rise in global emissions of greenhouse gases and then rapidly reducing them, adaptation to climate change will become an endless—and perhaps impossible—challenge. The push to build our resilience to climate change cannot distract from the need to reduce emissions as rapidly as possible, starting now.

Long-term mitigation: Critically needed early successes in reducing emissions will be a prelude to a task likely to preoccupy people for decades, even centuries: prospering globally while keeping human activities from sending the global atmosphere and climate outside the range of human habitability.

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, or ICPD, was a milestone in the history of population and development. At the conference, the world agreed that population is not about numbers, but about people. The conference's 20-year Programme of Action, adopted by 179 countries, argues that if needs for family planning and reproductive health care are met, along with other basic health and education services, then population stabilization will occur naturally, not as a matter of coercion or control.

There is good reason to believe that achievement of the ICPD's goal of universal access to reproductive health, in combination with improved education of girls and gender equality, would help achieve health and development objectives while also contributing to declines in fertility, which would in turn help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run. These fertility declines would by themselves—even in combination with increased maternal and child survival, to which reproductive health, education and gender equality also powerfully contribute—lead to population levels below those foreseen in most greenhouse-gas emission scenarios developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A growing body of research indicates that stabilization of population will help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run. Universal access to voluntary family planning is one intervention that will help hasten this stabilization.

The representatives of Governments and non-governmental organizations who crafted the ICPD's Programme of Action achieved two remarkable advances that may offer lessons to those who are grappling with treaty and protocol language on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009. One, they completed the transformation of population growth as a matter of human rights and the right of all people to make their own decisions regarding reproductive health. And two, they envisioned a means by which personal self-fulfilment would contribute to the well-being of families, communities, nations and ultimately to the environmental sustainability of the world as a whole.

The Programme of Action is a model of what success could look like in the climate arena. In particular the world's nations may eventually conclude that a recognition of the right to development and to equal use of the global atmosphere and environment—coupled with the equal enjoyment of these and all rights by women, men, girls and boys, young and old—will cement an agreement by which all nations can abide.

The linkages between population and climate change are in most cases complex and indirect. But the nature of these linkages is becoming clear enough to arrive at the key recommendations of this report for mitigating climate change and aiding adaptation to it: elicit a new level of engagement by Governments in the areas of population and development, provide access to reproductive health and actively support gender equality.

[6] "Climate change," the ICPD Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals

The 1994 ICPD Programme of Action mentions "climate change" twice, first in its preamble as an ecological problem "largely driven by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption [and] adding to the threats to the well-being of future generations." The document calls for "increased international cooperation in regard to population in the context of sustainable development" but offers no specifics about how to marshal and apply this cooperation or the specifics of population's role in sustainable development. A second mention of climate change encourages Governments to "consider requests for migration from countries whose existence...is imminently threatened by global warming and climate change."(20)

Global concern about climate change grew in the years between the 1994 ICPD and the 2000 Millennium Development Goals. Ending the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2015 is one of the targets for Millennium Development Goal 7, which aims at ensuring environmental sustainability. A 2008 report on the Goals mentions population growth in passing three times but does not explore population dynamics or their relationship with environmental sustainability or the other Goals.

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