In the News, December 2022

Published: December 12, 2022

U.S. Abortion Bans Continue to Take Effect, India Expands Access

As of late October, at least 13 states had banned most abortions, following the reversal of Roe v. Wade in June. Eventually, about half of states are expected to enact full bans or gestational limits. Some of these states have been sued to block enforcement of abortion bans, and the procedure remains legal while courts determine whether new or existing bans can be implemented.

By contrast, India’s Supreme Court ruled that all women, regardless of their marital status, have the right to abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy. Under the previous law, abortion up to 24 weeks was limited to married women, divorcees or widows, minors, rape survivors, and mentally ill women, while all other women could only access the procedure up to 20 weeks.

Report Shows Health Impact of Climate Change Ahead of COP27

A major new Lancet report demonstrates how climate change is exacerbating food insecurity, health impacts from extreme heat, risk of infectious disease outbreaks, and life-threatening extreme weather events. The report was published two weeks ahead of COP27, which took place in Egypt from November 6-18. The authors urge world leaders to prioritize human lives over fossil fuels, to end harmful subsidies, and to increase funding for “a just transition towards affordable, healthy, zero-carbon energy.”

Nations’ Climate Plans “Woefully Inadequate”

At a landmark 2015 climate meeting in Paris, world leaders pledged to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C and “ideally” 1.5°C. As part of the Paris Agreement, parties must present action plans to achieve this goal. A new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI) found that by September 2022, countries had communicated 139 new or updated plans. However, these are “woefully inadequate to avert the climate crisis.” If implemented, the latest plans would reduce 2030 emissions by 7 percent from 2019 levels. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emissions must decline by at least 43 percent from 2019 levels to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach.

Fastest Growing U.S. Cities Under Highest Climate Risk

New research by Axios shows that nine of the 10 fastest-growing urban areas in the U.S. have seen an increase in the number of “very hot” days between 1991 and 2020, where “very hot” means a high temperature in the top 5 percent ever recorded for that particular city.

The number of “very hot” days in Las Vegas, Austin, and Raleigh has increased by 115 percent, 553 percent, and 59 percent, respectively. Populations are also rapidly expanding in areas with high and growing natural disaster risks, including parts of Florida (as evidenced by the devastating impact of Hurricane Ian), as well as fire-prone areas throughout California.

Four in Five U.S. Maternal Deaths Are Preventable

An assessment of more than 1,000 pregnancy-related deaths between 2017 and 2019 by the CDC reveals that a staggering 84 percent could have been avoided with “reasonable changes.” More than half of pregnancy-related deaths (53 percent) occurred between one week and one year after pregnancy, 25 percent occurred on the day of delivery or within 7 days after, and 22 percent happened during pregnancy.

The U.S. has a maternal mortality crisis, with rates many times higher than those of other wealthy nations. Black women are especially vulnerable, with a three times higher likelihood of dying from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Mental health conditions leading to suicide and drug overdose were the leading cause of maternal deaths (23 percent), followed by excessive bleeding (14 percent) and cardiac problems (13 percent). The report recommends improving access to insurance coverage, preventing barriers to transportation to care, and developing better referral and coordination systems.

Precipitous Drop in Wildlife Populations

The Living Planet Report, published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) every two years, is a comprehensive analysis of trends in global biodiversity and the health of our planet. This year’s report shows that despite three decades of conservation interventions, biodiversity loss continues unabated.

Monitored populations of wild mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, and amphibians declined by an average of 69 percent between 1970 and 2018. The worst affected geographic region was Latin America and the Caribbean, with a staggering 94 percent drop in wild vertebrate populations over five decades (largely due to rampant deforestation), followed by Africa (66 percent), Asia-Pacific (55 percent), North America (20 percent), and Europe and Central Asia (18 percent). Freshwater animals were the worst-affected group, with populations having dropped by an average of 83 percent since 1970.

The authors recommend a holistic approach to the interconnected crises of biodiversity loss and climate change that addresses their root causes: rapid economic growth, increases in human population, international trade, and choices of technology.

Current Rate of Progress Puts Gender Equality Centuries Away

Two new reports on progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) show we are far off track for achieving gender equality by the 2030 deadline, with the current rate of progress suggesting women won’t reach equity with men until at least the 22nd century.

According to the UN’s 2022 gender snapshot, closing gaps in legal protections and removing discriminatory laws alone could take up to a staggering 286 years based on the current rate of change, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers report suggests that we might achieve gender equality in 2108 at the earliest.

Over 1.2 billion women and girls of reproductive age live in countries and areas with restricted access to safe abortion, and the Covid-19 pandemic caused further disruptions to vital sexual and reproductive health services. Ending child marriage by 2030 would require progress to happen 17 times faster than it has in the last decade, and if current trends continue, there will be more women and girls living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa in 2030 than there are today.

Both publications call for increased funding for women’s empowerment—in 2020, spending on programs where gender equality was the main objective made up only 4.6 percent of bilateral overseas development aid.

China Announces Plan to Boost Births

On October 16, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that he intends to “establish a policy system to boost birth rates and pursue a proactive national strategy in response to population aging.” At 1.4 billion, China has the highest number of people of all countries, but its fertility rate has fallen to a record low (1.18 births per woman, according to the UN Population Division), and some experts believe the population may already have peaked.

The latest UN population data project that India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023. Worried about economic implications of a shrinking, aging population, Chinese authorities have been introducing measures to encourage people to have larger families, including tax deductions, longer maternity leave, housing subsidies, and cash for a third child. Nevertheless, surveys show that most Chinese women have no desire to have more children, and human rights proponents fear the government could resort to coercive measures, such as restricting access to contraception and safe abortion.

Water Scarcity Fueling Violent Conflict in Northern Africa

The combination of climate change, rapid population growth, and poverty is increasingly leading to conflict in fragile states. In parts of Northern Africa, critical water shortage has led to outbreaks of violence, with communities fighting over access to the precious resource. The crisis has created a flood of refugees—the UN estimates that more than half-a-million have fled into Chad (itself one of the poorest countries in the world) from neighboring nations with high levels of violence, including Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Sudan.