Socially just policies aimed at limiting Earth’s human population have enormous potential to advance equity while simultaneously helping to mitigate the effects of climate change, say researchers at Oregon State University.
In an article published this week in Sustainability science, William Ripple and Christopher Wolf of OSU College of Forestry also note that fertility rates are a dramatically under-researched and neglected aspect of the climate emergency. This is especially true when compared to the attention paid to other climate-related topics, including energy, short-lived pollutants and nature-based solutions, they say.
“More than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries have come together to warn that if we continue our business as usual, the result will be untold human suffering from climate change,” Ripple said. “We have listed six areas, including reducing population growth in the context of social justice, as a framework for action.
“Since 1997, there have been over 200 papers published in Nature and Science on climate change mitigation, but only four of them have discussed social justice and only two are considered population,” a- he added. “It is clear that social justice and population policy are not getting the attention they deserve in tackling the climate emergency.”
The Earth’s 7.7 billion people contribute to climate change in a variety of ways, primarily through the consumption of natural resources, including non-renewable energy sources, and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from industrial processes and transport. The more people there are on the planet, the more potential they have to influence the climate.
Partly because of forced sterilization campaigns and China’s one-child policy, population policies have long been seen as taboo and detrimental to social justice, Wolf says, but they can be the exact opposite when ” they are developed and implemented in an appropriate manner with the aim of promoting human rights. rights, equity and social justice.
“There are strong links between high rates of population growth and impacts on ecosystems in developing countries related to water and food security,” he said. Given the challenges to food and water security, effective population policies can contribute to the achievement of social justice and adaptation to climate change, especially considering the current and projected uneven geographic distribution of impacts. climate change. Policies focused on health and education can dramatically reduce fertility rates. “
Examples of much needed population policy measures include improving the education of girls and young women, ending child marriage, and increasing the availability of voluntary and rights-based family planning services. empower all people and especially poor women, researchers say.
“Three examples of countries where better education of girls and young women may have contributed to a significant decline in fertility rates are Ethiopia, Indonesia and Kenya,” says Ripple. “Among these countries, specific educational reforms have included instituting courses in local languages, increasing education budgets and eliminating tuition fees. Ethiopia has also implemented a school feeding program, large-scale school construction has taken place in Indonesia, and primary school has been extended by one year in Kenya. “
As part of a comprehensive climate justice initiative, scientists say, rich countries should do more to help fund voluntary family planning and education opportunities for girls and young women in developing countries.
“It is not a balanced approach to focus on fertility rates without remembering that governments, businesses and wealthy individuals have been the main contributors to carbon dioxide emissions and the main beneficiaries of fuel consumption. fossils, ”Wolf said, noting the wealthiest half of the world’s population. is responsible for 90% of CO2 emissions.
“From a climate and social justice perspective, overconsumption of the rich by the rich needs to be addressed immediately, for example through policies such as eco-taxes such as carbon pricing,” Ripple added. “Reducing fertility rates alone is clearly not enough. The middle class and the wealthy must be responsible for most of the necessary reduction in emissions.”
Taking steps to stabilize and then gradually reduce the total number of humans within a socially just framework improves human rights and reduces the other hardships of migration, displacement and conflict expected in this century, say Wolf and Ripple . One potential framework is contraction and convergence, which simultaneously require a reduction in net emissions (contraction) while equalizing emissions per capita (convergence). This is fair in the sense that it implies the equalization of emissions per capita on a global scale, which is in stark contrast to current patterns.
“Social justice and the climate emergency demand that equitable population policies be prioritized alongside strategies involving energy, food, nature, short-lived pollutants and the economy,” Ripple said. “With feedback loops, tipping points and a potential climate catastrophe looming, we must take action in all of these areas and not ignore any of them.”