In the News, March 2022

Written by Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations | Published: March 21, 2022

COP26 Climate Summit Results in Big Commitments, but Not Big Enough to Limit Dangerous Warming

From October 31–November 12, 2021, representatives of some 200 countries met in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26, a summit for discussing ways to accelerate action on the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first day saw several important commitments made, including an announcement from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his country would reach net zero emissions by 2070. Saudi Arabia pledged to do the same by 2060, while Brazil set a target date of 2050. More than 100 countries signed a pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. And another group of countries, including Brazil and Russia, pledged to end deforestation by 2030.

The United States used the occasion to launch its global climate resilience plan, which President Biden said would “serve as a comprehensive framework to mobilize U.S. government resources and expertise in support of climate adaptation.”

While meeting these pledges would be a tremendous achievement, it would still not be enough to limit global temperature rise to the 1.5 degrees Celsius agreed to in the Paris Climate Agreement. Instead, the suggested targets would result in a 1.8-degree rise.

China’s Birth Rate Falls to Record Low Despite New Policy Allowing Couples to Have Up to Three Children

Data for 2020 show that China’s birth rate has fallen to 8.5 births per 1,000 people, the lowest rate on record since 1978. The total fertility rate was reported to be 1.3 children per woman in 2020.

According to official records, there were 1.41 billion people in China at the end of 2020. However, Fuxian Yi, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, says that those numbers may be inflated. He estimates that China’s population is actually 1.28 billion and that fertility rates are even lower than reported. Yi says it is likely that local governments are inflating their numbers in order to qualify for more financial resources from the national government.

After scrapping its notoriously coercive one-child policy in 2016, China moved to a two-child policy in an attempt to prop up sagging birth rates. In May of 2021, the government increased the limit to three children per family, though there’s little evidence that these changes have caused couples to have more children.

In a sign that China’s willingness to use coercive tactics to manage its birth rates persists whether the government is preventing births or encouraging them, recent reports suggest that public hospitals are turning away men seeking vasectomies. Some observers worry that such developments mean more heavy-handed measures to increase birth rates may be on the horizon.

Pregnancy-Related Deaths Have Doubled in the U.S. Over the Past 30 Years

According to a new annual report from the March of Dimes, the United States is in a maternal mortality crisis, with pregnancy-related deaths having doubled over the past 30 years. In addition, pregnancy-related morbidity—defined as significant negative impacts on the pregnant person’s short or long-term health—has doubled over an even shorter time frame. Each year in the United States, more than 700 women die of pregnancy-related causes and some 60,000 experience significant negative health impacts.

The report, which looks at trends year-to-year, did show a slight decline in the overall rate of pre-term birth in the U.S., from 10.2 percent of births in 2019 to 10.1 percent in 2020, as well as a similar small decline in overall infant mortality.

Significant racial disparities exist, however, with Black and Indigenous babies being more than twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday. The report recommends several policy steps to address the disparity, starting with passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.

ICE Doctor May Have Performed Unwanted and Unnecessary Hysterectomies to Scam Federal Government

A joint investigation by the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee has found that Mahendra Amin, a Georgia doctor working as a contractor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), may have performed unnecessary and unwanted gynecological procedures—up to and including hysterectomies—on detainees in ICE custody in order to inflate payments from the government.

Tony Ogburn, an expert tasked by the panel with reviewing Amin’s records, said that the doctor appeared to have done “the same evaluation and treatment on most patients because that is what he knew how to do, and/or he did tests and treatments that generated a significant amount of reimbursement without benefiting most patients.” Ogburn also found “a pattern of performing the same surgery … on many patients no matter what their condition was.”

The House committees have asked for a briefing from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as for information on how the agency plans to respond.

Population Exposed to Extreme Heat Tripled Between 1983 and 2016

Last year was the sixth hottest ever recorded, according to an annual analysis released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The average global temperature was 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. Eight of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the past decade.

Warming in the Arctic region is three times greater than the global average, highlighting the extreme likelihood of impending sea-level rise.

A separate study by the Associated Press using a dataset from Columbia University’s Climate School found that the percentage of the global population exposed to extreme heat tripled between 1983 and 2016 and now includes at least a quarter of the world’s population, most of them residing in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Rapid population growth in areas prone to extreme heat has exacerbated the increase.

Southern Asia has been hit particularly hard, with India alone accounting for 37 percent of those residing in areas affected by rising temperatures. Dhaka, Bangladesh, saw its population grow by over 16 million people and the number of dangerously hot days increase by about 50 from 1983-2016. According to the Associated Press, “This large population growth, along with the warming trend for the area, reveals that Dhaka had the biggest increase in heat exposure in the world.”

Vermont Moves to Protect Abortion Access in State Constitution

Vermont is set to become the first U.S. state to enshrine access to abortion and contraception in its state constitution. In early February, the Vermont House voted 107-41 to advance the proposed constitutional amendment, known as Proposition 5. Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, has signaled support for the measure, which, after a required public notice period, would appear on the ballot this November.

A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that some 70 percent of Vermonters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Fifteen states have enacted legislation to protect abortion rights ahead of this summer’s expected Supreme Court ruling, which is likely to overturn—or at the very least, severely undercut—Roe v. Wade.