Health and Education
Reduced / Sequestered
Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by slowing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.
Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.
Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.
Today, there are economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. Key strategies to change that include:
- make school affordable
- help girls overcome health barriers
- reduce the time and distance to get to school
- make schools more girl-friendly.
Securing women’s right to voluntary, high-quality family planning around the world would have powerful positive impacts on the health, welfare, and life expectancy of both women and their children. It also can affect greenhouse gas emissions.
Some 225 million women in lower-income countries say they want the ability to choose whether and when to become pregnant but lack the necessary access to contraception. The need persists in some high-income countries as well—including the United States, where 45 percent of pregnancies are unintended. Currently, the world faces a US$5.3 billion funding shortfall for providing the access to reproductive health care that women say they want to have.
Carbon footprints are a common topic. Addressing population—how many feet are leaving their tracks—remains controversial despite widespread agreement that greater numbers place more strain on the planet.
Honoring the dignity of women and children through family planning is not about governments forcing the birth rate down (or up, through natalist policies). Nor is it about those in rich countries, where emissions are highest, telling people elsewhere to stop having children. When family planning focuses on health-care provision and meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality, and well-being are the result; the benefits to the planet are side effects.
We model the influence of two rights-based solutions on global population: universal education and family planning. Increased access to and quality of voluntary reproductive health care, family planning resources, and 12–13 years of schooling are essential components to achieve the United Nations’ 2015 medium global population projection of 9.7 billion people by 2050. If investment and support of these fundamental human rights–centered solutions does not materialize, the world’s population could come closer to the higher projection, adding another 1 billion people to the planet.
We model the impact of this population difference in more-developed as well as least-and less-developed countries, in terms of how much energy, building space, food, waste, and transportation would be used. The resulting emissions reductions across the entire system could be as high as 85.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide, just within the window of 2020–2050. Health and education have a compounding impact, however, with greater climate impacts into the future.