The UK government has been urged to open its £ 11 billion pot of climate finance for contraception, as research in low-income countries shows a link between limited access to reproductive health services and environmental damage.
In a letter to Alok Sharma, president of the United Nations climate conference Cop26, an alliance of more than 60 NGOs called for funding eligibility rules to be changed to allow projects concerned with removing barriers to healthcare. reproductive health and girls’ education to access climate funds. .
Bethan Cobley, Director of MSI Reproductive Choices, one of the organizers of the letter, said: “Billions are now allocated for climate finance, adaptation and resilience. We hear loud and clear from the communities, women and our clients most affected by the climate crisis that what they really want is access to reproductive health care, so that they can make choices about when or about having children.
Campaigners say the government could change the way funds are spent in time for the November Cop26 in Glasgow. Developing countries where food, health care and water are already scarce are most affected by climate change. Low-income countries have contributed much less to the climate crisis than richer countries.
“Given the recent aid cuts and the urgency of the climate crisis, we need innovative ways to integrate development and climate programming,” said the letter, sent earlier this summer.
David Johnson, managing director of the Margaret Pyke Trust, said people in developing countries know what they need.
“From increasing the risk of unwanted pregnancy to dropping out of school, the communities we work with tell us that they are already seeing how climate change is affecting them and that they see the links between their health and the health of their environment. local, ”he said. .
“It is essential that UK government funding for climate adaptation takes this into account. The Cop26 is an opportunity to right this wrong.
A United Nations environment program reported earlier this year that investing in “community family planning” would help address climate, biodiversity and pollution crises and was crucial for women to take responsibility for. leadership roles as communities adapt.
Professor Susannah Mayhew, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the link, while “not intuitive” to westerners, was obvious to those in affected communities, where “the thing you need to do back up [sustainable living] is the ability to control your own fertility as an individual woman ”.
“People affected by climate change who have very limited access to quality health services understand the links much better than we do,” she said.
It was “absolutely essential” that the government allow climate finance for reproductive health programs, she added.
Mayhew, who is part of a team of researchers on a Margaret Pyke Trust project in Rukiga district in Uganda, said: “What women seem to want is to have better spaced, healthier children. so that they can be economically active and plan for a good quality future for their children that does not lead to increasing pressures on farmland and poor livelihood practices, which are accompanied by a lack of education, so that they can live locally in a more sustainable way with less pressure on the land. “
Richard Muhumuza, another of the researchers in the program, which is partly funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said people he spoke to in Rukiga clearly knew what the lack of access to family planning meant for their lives and environment. The wetlands of southwestern Uganda are vital to both humans and the national bird – the endangered Gray Crowned Crane – but are under intense pressure due to unpredictable weather conditions and harsh weather conditions. unsustainable agricultural practices.
“Ignorance and family planning were the reasons for environmental degradation, residents of Rukiga told us,” said Muhumuza, from the Uganda Research Unit. “They linked the support and education women receive by accessing family planning services and having fewer children, and by addressing the effects of climate change.
A farmer quoted in the study’s preliminary findings said, “I thank those who brought family planning. I thank them very much because if they had not presented it we would have delivered and tired.
“We are already tired with the children we have and [then] you find out that you are carrying another pregnancy to increase the number.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development said: “The UK is a world leader on gender equality and the fight against climate change. It is clear that supporting women, including through family planning and girls’ education, helps communities adapt and be more resilient to climate change. This is why we ensure that our international climate finance is gender sensitive and we use our Cop26 presidency to call on others to do the same.
The UK government said it has allocated £ 11.6 billion to international climate finance over the next five years. Campaigners say much of this comes from the reduced overseas aid budget. An Oxfam spokesperson compared him to “your bailiff leaving a bouquet of flowers”.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization in the United States, meeting the unmet global contraceptive need would cost around $ 770 million (£ 565 million) per year, or $ 548 million more. than current costs.