Population Matters

Climate Change: Imagine the Year is 2040

November 11th, 2009

Imagine that the year is 2040 and climate-related stressors, including stronger storms, drought, and desertification have increased the demand on developed nations for aid and relief services.  Northern Africa has been hard hit by desertification and seawater intrusion, and the Indian subcontinent is reeling from rising sea levels, declining water tables, and high temperatures.  Central America has suffered a significant loss of crops and habitat, and wildfires in Brazil and Argentina are contributing to deforestation and flooding.  How would the U.S respond to the growing calls for humanitarian assistance, and could it respond effectively?

That’s the scenario that was discussed at a conference that CNA hosted last week on the subject of climate change and state resilience.  Absent from the printed scenario, however, was any discussion of one of the key variables:  the population of the affected areas.

That’s a critical oversight. Most climate projections indicate that sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will suffer the worst of climate change, and many of the countries in those regions are already high on the list of failing or potentially failing states.  Climate change is likely to have a devastating impact on countries like Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Ethiopia, the Sudan, and on many parts of India and Bangladesh.

Whether these nations and the world at large are able to respond effectively to the humanitarians needs that will arise in these areas depends in no small degree on how many people are living in them.  In virtually all these areas, population is on track to grow by 50 percent or more by mid-century.  In fact, many of the failing states that will be slammed by climate change could double their populations in the next half century.  Some could even triple their populations.

The operative word above is “could.”  If the MDG 5 goal of providing universal access to family planning and other reproductive health services is realized, the population growth of many fragile states could fall short of current projections. And if we can do a better job of educating women, elevating their status, and eliminating such practices as early childhood marriage, we might have a fighting chance of stabilizing many failing states now threatened by climate change.

But if population, family planning and reproductive health are left out of the climate change adaptation debate, there is probably little hope for many of these failing states. The U.S. and other donor nations will be incapable of addressing the escalating tide of human suffering.  A lot depends on whether the U.S. and other donor nations take immediate steps to boost their support for MDG 5 and the ICPD Programme of Action.  There is no time to waste.

USAID/Ethiopia

USAID/Ethiopia

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

(Note: This blog was posted earlier this week on the “Conversations for a Better World” blogsite).

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