“THE RH LAW: AN ANTIDOTE TO CLIMATE CHANGE”
Keynote Speech of
REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN
on the occasion of the forum on
Establishing the Links Between Reproductive Health,
Population, and Climate Change
04 February 2013, Luxent Hotel, Quezon City
The nexus among population, reproductive health and climate change are empirically given as they are well-established and validated.
Throughout the long years of campaigning for the enactment of the RH law, the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) has maintained that the absence of a comprehensive and national policy on RH also contributed to the level of devastation and impact of climate change on the lives of people.
The Philippines is no stranger to both man-made calamities and natural disasters. The inordinately violent typhoons and weather disturbances that have battered our country in the last few years demonstrate the dire consequences of climate change and must spur government to effectively mitigate global warming and environmental degradation.
In the months leading to the much-celebrated enactment of the RH law, the protracted debates revolved mostly around contraceptive use, maternal and infant health, youth sexuality education and religious freedom.
There was hardly any mention of the link between reproductive health and family planning with climate change or the protection of the environment.
The RH supporters who expressed their support by witnessing the debates inside the plenary hall, campaigning for the bill in forums all over the country and marching in the streets were mostly members of women’s groups, human rights NGOs, the urban poor and mass organizations. Environmental activists or green crusaders among them did not articulate much the linkage between RH and the environment.
Despite the correlation between the issues of population and environmental protection, it is a link that environmentalists and the green movement may have downplayed probably because of the fear of alienating a public that is receptive to the idea of environmental conservation but could incorrectly associate reproductive health with abortion.
On the other hand, RH was not considered a “green issue” simply because not many realize that the historic RH law is also a calamity-risk reduction policy.
The connection between a runaway population growth rate brought about by the inaccessibility of reproductive health services and family planning options for women in poor countries like the Philippines and conservation and environment protection is unmistakable.
Addressing climate change and putting a halt to the deterioration of the environment need not be costly and must not be limited to investments in green technologies.
Since a huge population and calamities are fatal partners, the mitigation of the population growth rate as a logical consequence of promoting universal access to reproductive health and family planning, will enhance the Philippines’ positive response to climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Take note that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”
This definition truly demonstrates the link between population and climate change.
Way back in 2004, Conservation International-Philippines, the DENR and NEDA conducted a much needed study entitled “Mapping Population-Biodiversity Connections in the Philippines” (MPBCP) which examined the interrelatedness of rapid population growth and the continuing deterioration of our environment.
The paper emphasized that “policies and interventions that focus on biodiversity conservation alone are insufficient in abating biodiversity losses and destruction of forest resources unless population and development concerns are adequately addressed.”
The British medical journal Lancet also recently underscored the connection of population dynamics, reproductive health and rights and climate change. It asserted that reducing unmet need for family planning “could slow high rates of population growth, thereby reducing demographic pressure on the environment.”
The journal cited a paper published by the London School of Economics (LSE) in August 2009 that highlighted the direct link between a rapidly growing population and climate change. The paper asserted categorically that “family planning is a cost effective tool in reducing carbon emissions.”
The paper emphasized that spending a mere $7.00 on family planning will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one ton. To similarly decrease carbon dioxide emissions by a ton, the study says that government has to spend $51.00, $24.00, and $13.00 on solar energy, wind energy and deforestation programs, respectively.
The Lancet echoed the call of the LSE economists for increased investments in family planning to arrest climate change. It maintained that “[i]gnoring high rates of population growth in parts of the world is likely to jeopardize the success of other responses to climate change”.
Truly, lesser emitters mean lesser emissions.
The following are the relevant impacts of the RH law on population in relation to calamity-risk reduction and management:
1. Upholding the basic human right to reproductive self-determination wherein couples and women are empowered to freely and responsibly determine the number and spacing of their children.
2. Enabling couples and women to meet their fertility goals. Studies have shown that the gap between wanted and actual fertility rates is alarmingly high in women in the poorest quintile. This simply means that poor women prefer less children than what they actual have. According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, an average of 44% of pregnancies in the poorest 10% of Filipino women are unwanted.
3. Increasing the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR). Again, the FPS 2006 reveals that contraceptive use remains extremely low among poor women whose families are at greatest risk during disasters. Among the poorest 20% of women, over 50% do not use any form of family planning because of lack of information and access to services and commodities.
4. Decreasing teenage pregnancies as a result of age and development-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education. Despite the drop in teen marriages, teenage pregnancies in the country have increased by 65% over a 10-year period from 2000-2010 according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Plan Philippines. Teenage pregnancy in the Philippines is among the highest in the world.
5. Decreasing migration as fewer children exert less pressure on parents to seek the elusive “greener pasture” in urban centers.
6. Generating more savings from lesser government intervention and expenditure for pregnancy and maternity-related health services which can be channeled to climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and facilities.
Empirical studies have shown that global pressures like population growth, urbanization, economic pressures, environmental degradation and war are likely to play a role in shaping local vulnerabilities to natural disasters and in the severity of the impact of climate change.
Another paper published by the London School of Economics entitled “Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change”, underscores that by 2050, eight billion out of a world population of nine billion will live in what is currently termed the ‘developing world.’
These same developing countries are the ones more exposed to and at greater risk to climate change impacts. Thus by 2050, we will have around 90% of the world’s population vulnerable to disasters. That is why developing countries like the Philippines should play a strong role in shaping international agreements and policies on climate change.
In the Philippines, the National Framework Strategy and Plan on Climate Change and the National Climate Change Action Plan – both formulated by the Climate Change Commission – underscore population as a factor that should be considered in understanding and addressing the vulnerabilities of the country to climate change.
More particularly, the document states that “population growing exponentially and migrating into areas where they should not be contribute to the overall vulnerability of the country to additional external threats like climate change.”
By helping couples and women meet their fertility goals, the RH law will frontally address the problems spawned by calamities, ecological despoliation and climate change because a decrease in fertility rates will also reduce the magnitude of the carbon footprint of each human being on the environment as well as reduce the adverse effects of human activity on the ecology even as lesser people will make risk-management more efficient and adequate.
Even with the passage of the RH law, PLCPD will not rest on its laurels as it aims to even intensify its advocacy through this forum on the interconnection between reproductive health and climate change. Our goal is aimed not only on increasing the awareness of policymakers but also to come up with concrete actions to address the linkages between and among RH, population and climate change.
There can be no better time for this than now as we approach the election campaign period. This early, we need to educate candidates that these issues should be at the forefront of their electoral platforms and we need their commitment that their advocacy will translate to policy once elected.
I am certain that this forum will help participants realize that we cannot have an effective conservation or climate change policy that is not interlinked with population and RH. In the same manner, any serious RH policy cannot be effective if it does not include conservation and environmental protection in its objectives.
We would like to thank the Population Action International for supporting us in this undertaking. We hope that through this activity policymakers and various stakeholders will join hands with us in realizing our common goal of achieving a better quality of life for every Filipino, where reproductive health is considered an inherent right which directly relates to environmental protection and mitigates the impact of climate change.