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RCOG statement on climate change and women’s health

News 1 December 2009

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released its 2009 State of the World Population report, entitled, Facing a changing world: women, population and climate.1 The report highlights the link between women’s health and climate change, and calls upon governments to consider the importance of reproductive health in responses to this global challenge.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) welcomes the attention brought to women’s health in relation to climate change. Health professionals have increasingly become concerned with the impact of environmental factors on human health. In May 2009, the Lancet medical journal called climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century.”2

The UNFPA report identifies poor women in poor countries as especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate change has the potential to disrupt progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It threatens to exacerbate current inequalities through hardships such as water scarcity, changes in food availability, migration, internal displacement, civil strife, and health crises.

The report highlights the importance of family planning, reproductive health care and women’s empowerment in efforts to address climate change. Girls with more education grow up to have smaller and healthier families. Women with access to reproductive health services and family planning are able to space and prevent unwanted pregnancies, leading to lower fertility rates and lower greenhouse-gas emissions. It is estimated that 200 million women worldwide currently have an unmet need for contraception. Lack of access to reproductive health care limits women’s potential to contribute to sustainable social and economic development.

In light of the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the RCOG urges governments to take action to reduce emissions. Moreover, it joins other health organisations in calling upon politicians and policymakers to take women’s health concerns into account in global strategies to address climate change.

Notes

The RCOG supports the Climate and Health Council’s declaration on climate change. For further information, please click here

1. The UNFPA State of the World Population 2009 report, Facing a changing world: women, population and climate, is available online at www.unfpa.org/swp/.

2. The Lancet series, Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change (May 2009) is available online at www.thelancet.com/climate-change. See also the Lancet series on Health and Climate Change (November 2009), available online at www.thelancet.com/series/health-and-climate-change.