Building African Leadership on Population and Climate Change

(January 2010) Climate change poses one of the greatest challenges for health and development in the 21st century. Countries in the developing world least responsible for emissions are likely to experience the greatest impacts, and rapid population growth in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa increases vulnerability to the consequences of climate change.


Recent expert meetings and public forums have discussed population-climate change relationships, but unfortunately there have been few African participants. To address this gap, PRB, with the support of the Compton Foundation, has embarked on a project to “Build African Leadership on Population and Climate Change.” The goal of this work is to create a cadre of African practitioners, researchers, and policymakers who are leaders in population and climate change and who are empowered to discuss the role of social adaptation strategies including family planning and girls’ education in national action plans and organizational strategies that address climate change.


In November 2009, PRB organized a one-day workshop in conjunction with the International Family Planning Conference in Uganda to offer African professionals, researchers, and policymakers the opportunity to learn more about and discuss population and climate change linkages and the role of family planning. The 32 participants primarily came from the health and population sectors because the workshop was limited to those who would already be attending the international conference or were already in Uganda. Limited availability of travel funds prevented PRB from responding to the more than 100 applications for the workshop received from across Africa.


PRB and Population Action International (PAI) staff presented the most recent research on population and climate change. Presentations included:


  • An introduction to climate change and impacts in East Africa.
  • Population trends and climate change.
  • Linking population, fertility, and family planning with adaptation to climate change.
  • Global architecture for climate change and adaptation—why it matters for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

One objective of the workshop was to facilitate dialogue on population and climate change linkages and identify and address sensitivities around the topic among African population and environment practitioners and advocates. Due to recent lively discussions on population and climate change in the media and other public forums, the organizers of the session expected a debate on the appropriateness of calling attention to population, family planning, and climate change linkages for communication and advocacy purposes. On the contrary, however, participants welcomed the presentations of current research and data that would help them frame their work in the context of current global priorities. Participants stressed the importance of focusing messages on rights-based approaches, voluntary family planning, and meeting unmet need, but in general seemed comfortable discussing family planning both in terms of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It was clear from the discussion that any messages on population and climate change should also be prefaced with the importance of reducing consumption and emissions in developed countries.


Following the session, PRB organized a press briefing on population and climate change with statements from and interviews with Jason Bremner (PRB), Karen Hardee (PAI), and Clive Mutunga (PAI). As a result of the press briefing, several stories developed at the conference mentioned family planning and environment relationships.


Several of the workshop participants later participated in the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. However, after the Copenhagen meeting, it is clear that policy responses to climate change remain a work in progress. PRB is committed to providing developing country policymakers with the best population and health information available for making decisions. Over the coming months, PRB will continue to work with workshop participants and other members of the East Africa Population, Health, and Environment Network, through the publication of a policy brief and fact sheet highlighting population and climate change relationships in sub-Saharan Africa.


 Jason Bremner is program director, Population, Health, and Environment at PRB.