Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. Its effects are already being felt and will grow worse, underscoring the need for urgent action.
Population, economic growth, and patterns of consumption and production all play a role in climate change. But a common mistake is to equate more people with more emissions, while ignoring inequality. In fact, of the world’s 7.1 billion people, only 2.5 billion make enough money – more than $10 per day – to consume enough to contribute to emissions. Among this group, a small minority is responsible for an overwhelming share of emissions.
Yet everyone will be impacted by climate change, particularly those who already face vulnerabilities and marginalization, including the poor, women and girls, and indigenous people.
Where people live also impacts their vulnerability. Migration and urbanization are taking place on an unprecedented scale, affecting people’s exposure to the effects of climate change and their ability to adapt.
UNFPA is working with governments and other partners to better understand population dynamics and how they affect people’s consumption and vulnerability. Only with this knowledge can policymakers take on this gravest of challenges.
UNFPA is working on a variety of levels to address climate change and its consequences.
With the International Institute for Environment and Development and Wolfram Research, UNFPA has developed Demographic Exploration for Climate Adaptation (DECA), an automated geographic analysis system that combines population data – such as gender, age, location, housing, availability of services – with the geography of climate impacts.
DECA enables policymakers to see, at a detailed level, where vulnerable populations are, what climate change effects they might be vulnerable to, and what resources they have to be resilience in the face of these impacts. This information can form the basis of policies for planning more sustainable infrastructure and reducing disaster risks.
Multiple countries including Indonesia, Maldives, Jamaica (at senior technical level), Trinidad and Tobago and St. Lucia have committed to using DECA to help with planning and policy development. By the end of 2015, DECA will cover as many as 20 million people, and possibly many more.
UNFPA also helps address the effects of climate change, especially the humanitarian consequences. Climate change increases the magnitude and frequency of natural disasters. In these humanitarian crises, women and girls often lose access to vital health services, including sexual and reproductive health care, and they face a heightened risk of gender-based violence. In humanitarian crises, UNFPA provides critical sexual and reproductive health services, raises awareness of the increased risks, and provides psychosocial support to survivors of violence.
Outside of humanitarian crises, UNFPA’s work on sexual and reproductive health, education and freedom from violence are helping to promote resilience among vulnerable populations. Access to voluntary family planning and maternal health care, the prevention of child marriage and early pregnancy, and the provision of quality education are key ways to empower vulnerable women and young people. With better health and education, they can better develop the means to prepare for and respond to climate-related crises.