Feature story

UNFPA report: Exploring links between HIV and climate change

18 November 2009

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State of the Worlds Population, 2009
Credit: UNFPA

The success of the global response to AIDS will rely on tackling not only the encroaching virus itself but also the affects of climate change such as food and water shortages, growth in poverty and an increase in natural disasters, argues the State of World Population 2009, released today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The report also contends that, equally, strengthening the response to the AIDS epidemic will mean that individuals, communities and societies will have greater social resilience in the face of a range of climate change threats and will be better able to deal with their consequences. HIV and climate change are perceived as profoundly linked, a perception shared by a range of UN bodies, including UNAIDS and the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP.

Subtitled, ‘Facing a changing world: women population and climate’, The State of World Population places women at the very centre of the attempt to confront climate change and maintains that policies, programmes and interventions are more likely to mitigate its worst effects if they reflect the rights and needs of women.

Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid

Women are said to bear the brunt of climate change, partly because in many countries they make up the majority of the agricultural workforce hard hit in an environmental crisis, and because they often do not have sufficient control of their lives and access to as many opportunities to generate income as men – they are more likely to be poor and to see their poverty increase. As UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid has it, “Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it.”

Numerous examples of extreme climate change are cited, from melting glaciers in Bolivia, to the destruction of crops by typhoons in the Philippines, and from drought in east and southern Africa to floods in Vietnam. In each scenario, women are shown struggling to keep their livelihoods and families intact, and, in some cases, fighting for their lives.

According to the report, empowering women and girls, especially through investments in health and education, help boost economic development and reduce poverty, thus having a beneficial impact on coping with climate change. Girls with more education are more likely to protect themselves against HIV and to have smaller and healthier families as adults. In general, access to reproductive health services such as family planning means lower fertility rates and this has a clear bearing on lessening the potential impact of environmental crises and making sustainable development more likely.

“Women should be part of any agreement on climate change—not as an afterthought or because it’s politically correct, but because it’s the right thing to do,” says Ms Obaid. “Our future as humanity depends on unleashing the full potential of all human beings, and the full capacity of women, to bring about change.”

The State of World Population 2009 argues that ensuring gender inequity is challenged in all its facets is an urgent necessity, not just to improve the lives of individual women but to stave off the worst consequences of environmental crisis. This sense of urgency is relayed to the leaders and negotiators due to meet in Copenhagen for December’s critical climate change conference. They are urged to “think creatively” not just about emissions and targets but about population, reproductive health and gender equality and how they can contribute to “a just and environmentally sustainable world.”