Contraception is almost five times cheaper than conventional green technologies as a means of combating climate change, according to research published this week.
Each £4 spent on basic family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a tonne. To achieve the same result with low-carbon technologies would cost a minimum of £19.
The UN estimates that 40 percent of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended.
The report, 'Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost', commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) from the London School of Economics, concludes that “considered purely as a method of reducing future CO2 emissions”, family planning is more cost-effective than leading low-carbon technologies. It says family planning should be seen as one of the primary methods of emissions reduction.
Meeting basic family planning needs along the lines suggested would save 34 gigatonnes [billion tonnes] of CO2 between now and 2050 – equivalent to nearly six times the annual emissions of the US and almost 60 times the UK’s annual total.
Roger Martin, chair of OPT, said the findings vindicated OPT’s stance that population growth must be included in the climate change debate. “It’s always been obvious that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions – the carbon tonnage can’t shoot down, as we want, while the population keeps shooting up. The taboo on mentioning this fact has made the whole climate change debate so far somewhat unreal. Stabilising population levels has always been essential ecologically, and this study shows it’s economically sensible too.
“The population issue must now be added into the negotiations for the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. This part of the solution is so easy, and so cheap, and would bring so many other social and economic benefits, from health and education to the empowerment of women. It would also ease all the other environmental problems we face – the rapid shrinkage of soil, fresh water, forests, fisheries, wildlife and oil reserves and the looming food crisis.
“All of these would be easier to solve with fewer people, and ultimately impossible to solve with ever more. Meanwhile each additional person, especially each rich person in the OECD countries, reduces everyone’s share of the planet’s dwindling resources even faster. Non-coercive population policies are urgently needed in all countries. The taboo on discussing this is no longer defensible.”
The study, based on the principle that “fewer people will emit fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide”, models the consequences of meeting all “unmet need” for family planning, defined as the number of women who wish to delay or terminate childbearing but who are not using contraception.
One recent estimate put this figure at 200 million. UN data suggests that meeting unmet need for family planning would reduce unintended births by 72 percent, reducing projected world population in 2050 by half a billion to 8.64 billion. Between 2010 and 2050, 12 billion fewer “people years” would be lived – 326 billion against 338 billion under current projections.
The 34 gigatonnes of CO2 saved in this way would cost $220 billion – roughly $7 a tonne. However, the same CO2 saving would cost over $1 trillion if low-carbon technologies were used.
The $7 cost of abating a tonne of CO2 using family planning compares with $24 (£15) for wind power, $51 (£31) for solar, $57-$83 (£35-£51) for coal plants with carbon capture and storage, $92 (£56) for plug-in hybrid vehicles and $131 (£80) for electric vehicles.
However, the study may understate the CO2 savings available because the estimates of unmet need are based on married women alone, yet some studies suggest up to 40 percent of young unmarried women have had unwanted pregnancies.
Martin added: “The potential for tackling climate change by addressing population growth through better family planning, alongside the conventional approach, is clearly enormous and we shall be urging all those involved in the Copenhagen process to take it fully on board.”