By Slowing Population Growth, Family Planning Can Help Address Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Executive Summary
An estimated 225 million women in developing countries lack affordable access to high quality voluntary family planning services. Meeting the already existing need for modern contraceptive services would contribute to improved health; foster social justice; decreases the need to expand health facilities, schools and jobs; allow couples to invest more in the welfare of each child; and provide the economic benefits of a “demographic bonus” due to a favorable age distribution with fewer dependents who are not working.
By reducing unintended pregnancies and slowing population growth, strengthened family planning programs would also powerfully and inexpensively contribute to improvements in food security and the reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. A confluence of long-term environmental and population trends is undermining world food availability and driving climate change. These trends include quickening climate changes and difficulty adapting to its effects; widespread depletion of water, soils and fisheries; increased diversion of grains from human consumption to bio-fuel production and livestock and poultry feed; rapid population growth, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia; and increasing affluence and consumption in middle income countries.
Insufficient food is a serious problem for nearly 800 million people. Future food security could improve substantially if decreased population growth reduces future demand for food. Since agriculture and livestock together emit 30% of all greenhouse gasses, reducing the need to increase production of crops and farm animals will also help stabilize the climate. Clearly the developed nations of the world bear much responsibility for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, but as current low-income countries become more populous and more successful in reducing poverty, consumption and greenhouse gas emissions will increase as they have in India, Brazil, Indonesia and especially in China—now the country emitting the largest amount of greenhouse gasses (Figure 6).
Food demand and climate change planners commonly use UN estimates of world population growth, which recently projected with an 80% probability that world population size will increase from today’s 7.3 billion to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100, with almost all growth occurring in developing countries. World population growth of 2.4 billion rather than 5.1 billion is unlikely without increased investment in family planning. An increase from an estimated $4.1 billion to $9.4 billion annually is needed to provide family planning to women in developing countries who want to end or delay childbearing (1). An annual expenditure of $9.4 billion is less than 5% of the $209 billion annual expenditure estimated to be necessary to meet the need for food in developing countries between now and 2050 (2).
Research shows that investment in global family planning can make a substantial contribution toward improving food security and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions—at a relatively low cost. It would be appropriate for the research, policy, and program communities that address world hunger and global warming to make family planning a priority in the new Sustainable Development Goals. Investment of an additional $3.5 billion annually by foreign aid donors and an additional $1.8 billion from developing country governments would fill the $5.3 billion gap in funds for family planning. Specifically, such an investment could:

  • Slow global climate change, by providing 16-29% of the needed emissions reductions (3);
  • Improve food security by slowing population growth;
  • Satisfy existing demand for contraception services; and
  • Prevent an estimated 52 million unintended pregnancies every year.

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