Family Planning and Education
Rights-based, voluntary family planning and universal, high-quality education are essential human rights. They generate numerous direct benefits for gender equality, improved health and well-being, economic development, and more. Slower global population growth, a cascading outcome of increased family planning and rising education levels, contributes to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Increased knowledge about, access to, and quality of voluntary family planning, and 12 years of high-quality education, are essential to achieving the UN’s 2019 medium global population projection of 9.7 billion people by 2050. We model the global impact of this population scenario, which includes increased uptake of family planning and rising education levels (and therefore lower fertility), on energy, building space, food waste, and transportation demand versus the status quo. Fostering equality through this solution could reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by nearly 70 gigatons between 2020 and 2050.
Universal access to quality education for all children, and access to voluntary family planning services for women, girls, and couples, are essential human rights and cornerstones of gender equality. Family planning generates numerous benefits for maternal and child health, nutrition, and economic development, and contributes to gender equality, climate adaptation, and resilience.
Access to education can lead to improved livelihoods, better economic opportunities, delayed onset of marriage, and delayed childbearing. When accompanied by quality sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, it can contribute to significant declines in maternal and child morbidity and mortality rates, unintended pregnancies, and unsafe abortions.
Substantially increasing investments for these human rights at an individual level is an effective way to ensure inclusive, equitable economic development and boost health outcomes across generations. In addition, as fertility levels change due in part to increased uptake of voluntary family planning and rising education levels, population growth slows, with cascading benefits for the health and well-being of people and the planet.
Project Drawdown’s Family Planning and Education solution advocates for universal access to quality education for all children, and voluntary family planning for all girls, women, and couples around the world.
Project Drawdown’s Family Planning and Education solution models the impact of accelerating equality through rising universal education attainment and enhancing bodily autonomy through increased uptake of rights-based family planning from 2020 to 2050 on emissions by comparing two scenarios: Scenario 2, in which there are increased investments in and adoption of voluntary family planning and universal education, and a reference scenario with no additional investments and a continuation of current barriers to family planning and education (the status quo).
Each Project Drawdown solution calculates market growth, functional demand, and impact based on data from UN population projections. Our analysis adopted a blend of the UN’s World Population Prospects 2019 high and constant population projection variants (World Population Prospects, 2019) for the reference scenario. We constructed Scenario 2 from the UN’s medium and low population projection variants, which represent declining fertility due to increased access to and uptake of voluntary family planning and increased universal education.
To model the drawdown impact of family planning and education, we calculated the higher expected demand across all economic sectors modeled by Project Drawdown solutions in the reference scenario based (all other things being equal) on the difference in regional and global population projections. Applying emissions factors associated with conventional technologies and practices, we aggregated emission results associated with the difference in demand between the two scenarios to estimate cumulative emissions impacts by sector.
Our analysis showed that Scenario 2 could lead to a reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of 68.90 gigatons from 2020 to 2050. The model distributes this impact from a combination of enhanced access to voluntary family planning and 12 years of complete, quality education for all children. (Although there is a lack of consensus over the precise contributions of educational attainment and contraceptive use for fertility outcomes, both contribute to slowing population growth over time.) Based on our modeling, 55 percent of the projected carbon dioxide equivalent emissions reductions between 2020 and 2050 for the Family Planning and Education solution (approximately 38 gigatons) will occur in lower- and middle-income countries, and 45 percent (31 gigatons) in high-income countries.
As of June 2022, an estimated 7.9 billion people inhabit our planet. By 2050, this number will undoubtedly increase—but what our global population will be, as well as the impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and planetary health, remains to be seen. Global population levels are a key variable in climate models, including those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Unsustainable levels of consumption in high-income countries remain the primary driver of climate change; many of Project Drawdown’s solutions focus on transforming the electricity, building, and energy sectors to drastically reduce emissions. People living in low- and middle-income countries are often first and worst impacted by climate change. Fostering equality through family planning and universal education are vital components to attain higher levels of economic growth and sustained improvements in human well-being.
Globally, a smaller population with sustainable levels of consumption would reduce demands on energy, transportation, materials, food, and natural systems. This in turn would reduce emissions that would otherwise be generated by these sectors. Demographic changes, including population growth, age distribution, extent of urbanization, and household size, also affect energy consumption, demand, and utilization and therefore greenhouse gas emissions (Dodson et al., 2020; Project Drawdown, 2020; O’Neill et al., 2012).
The most effective way to impact future population growth that upholds the basic human rights and dignity of all people as well as their right to development is to substantially increase funding and resources for reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and universal access to quality education for all. It is critical to center human rights, full bodily autonomy, and gender equality, and recognize that benefits to the planet are positive ripple effects of access and agency.
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