If family planning is also the means to save the climate is a different question for which there is no conclusive scientific evidence. A study by Simon Calcoen for the World Health Organization concluded that the assumption that ‘less children’ automatically means lower CO² emissions doesn’t survive the reality check. Better access to health care services and pushing back poverty leads to a drop in the mortality rate, followed by a drop in the birth rate. However, while moving towards a higher living standard, the ecological footprint also grows, which cancels out the positive effects of ‘less children’ on total emissions. But more important is that we cannot equate the increase in CO²-emissions in developing countries with the emissions by overconsumption in our own countries. “What should have priority is to (help) achieve the development needs of the South, but in a more ecofriendly manner than the current industrial countries have been doing”, the study concluded. Apart from that, industrial countries should lead by example and promote alternative ways of consumption: limiting the overconsumption in the North has a far more direct impact on the climate than low fertility numbers in the South.
Does this mean the advantages of family planning are few? To the contrary. It is about the right of women to decide if they want to have children and the size of their family. Research shows that if women are given good information and access to modern methods of contraception, they too will choose for family planning. The May Lancet Commission’s report “Accelerate progress – sexual and reproductive health and rights for all” calculated that meeting the unmet need for family planning could avert 67 million unplanned pregnancies per year and combined with investments in maternal and newborn care could lead to a drop of 75% in maternal and child deaths. Family planning may not, however, be reduced to a means to avert climate change – for which the polluting Global North carries the responsibility. And definitely not when the assumed effect is not even proven.
Marlies Casier, international policy adviser for Sensoa