The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released its annual State of the World Population Report yesterday, linking efforts to promote “sustainable development” and affect “climate change” to its “reproductive rights” agenda. Critics see the report as a thinly-veiled attempt to harness popular environmental concerns in service of population control.
The report, “Facing a Changing World: Women, Population and Climate,” asserts that achieving “universal access to reproductive health” would both contribute to declines in fertility and “help reduce green-house gas emissions in the long run.” It calls upon nations to “fully fund family planning services and contraceptive supplies.”
Sounding alarmist, UNFPA claims that “The harsh realities of high per capita emissions among industrialized countries and swiftly rising ones among developing countries highlight the urgency of mobilizing all of humanity to stop collectively at the brink of this possible climate disaster zone.” In a statement accompanying the report, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid avers that “rapid population growth and industrialization have led to a rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions. We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster.”
Peter C. Smith of the International Right to Life Federation observes that agencies such as the UNFPA always need a “looming disaster” to secure their funding.” Smith sees the “true looming disaster” as the “demographic implosion of the developed world” which is being exported to the developing world. The report touts declining birth rates in Japan and the European Union (EU) as positives and criticizes higher fertility in the United States (US).
In places, the report disavows overt population control arguments and acknowledges development specialists such as Bangladesh’s Atiq Rahman, who attributes climate change to “consumption patterns” rather than “demographic considerations.” Yet it also asserts that “Each birth results not only in the emissions attributable to that person in his or her lifetime, but also the emissions of all his or her descendents. Hence, the emissions savings from intended or planned births multiply with time.” Further, the report states that “fear of appearing supportive of population control has until recently held back any mention of ‘population’ in the climate debate. Nonetheless, some participants in the debate are tentatively suggesting the need at least consider the impacts of population growth.” It points to an EU proposal “that population trends be among the factors that should be taken into consideration when setting greenhouse-gas mitigation targets.”
Critics also point to the report’s favorable citation of Obama administration’s science czar, John Holdren, as signaling openness to coercive measures. In the 1970s, Holdren called for forced abortion and sterilization in his writings. Concern over UNFPA’s role in facilitating China’s one-child policy, which is beset by allegations of forced and sex-selective abortion, contributed to a recommendation by the US State Department under then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to suspend funding of the agency. In March of this year, the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration policy and directed that $50 million be given to UNFPA, despite continued concerns over its China role.