In the News, March 2023

Written by Olivia Nater, Communications Manager | Published: March 13, 2023

China’s Population Begins Slow Decline

According to data released in January by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s population declined by roughly 850,000 people between 2021 and 2022, the first shrinkage since the 1960s. This means India may now be the world’s most populous nation.

This news wasn’t unexpected—China’s fertility rate (the average number of children per woman) dropped below two back in 1991 and now stands at only 1.2. While the infamous one-child policy contributed to the decline, China’s fertility rate actually began dropping dramatically well before the one-child policy was enacted, as a result of a non-coercive “Later, Longer, Fewer” campaign encouraging a later start to childbearing, greater spacing of births, and smaller family size.

Despite increasing the limit on family size to two and then three children in recent years, alongside strong propaganda from the Communist Party promoting childbearing, as well as incentives such as tax deductions, longer maternity leave, and housing subsidies, the birth rate has remained low. This trend is reflected in other industrialized countries with aging, shrinking populations and is likely here to stay with the welcome adoption of a new small family norm as women take up higher education and careers.

Unfortunately, politicians, mainstream economists, and media outlets are widely painting this positive development for women and the planet as a crisis, disregarding the fact that infinite growth is not compatible with a finite planet.

Nations Agree on Biodiversity Deal

In December, leaders from more than 190 countries came together for the 15th conference of the parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD), held in Montréal and presided over by China.

The outcome was the new Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, which will replace the failed Aichi Biodiversity Targets that expired in 2020. The new deal aims to protect 30 percent of all land and marine areas by 2030 but is lacking in many areas, including on tackling root drivers of nature loss such as rapid population growth.

As a non-member of the UN CBD (due to Republican opposition to international environmental treaties), the United States was only able to participate in the conference from the sidelines. Upon taking office, however, President Biden signed an executive order that would similarly place 30 percent of U.S. land and waters under protection by 2030.

Past Eight Years Were Warmest on Record

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed in January that the past eight years were the warmest on record globally, “fueled by ever-rising greenhouse gas concentrations and accumulated heat.” In 2022, the average global temperature was about 1.15°C above pre-industrial levels, meaning we are moving ever closer to breaching the 1.5°C Paris Agreement limit. The WMO stated that global warming trends are expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which will bring more extreme heatwaves, drought, and devastating flooding.

Afghan Women Banned From Universities

In December, Afghanistan’s Higher Education Minister announced that women would be banned from universities, with immediate effect. This represents yet another attack on women’s rights by the new Islamic fundamentalist government—girls had already been excluded from secondary schools since the Taliban takeover in 2021, and in November, women were banned from parks, gyms, and public baths in Kabul.

The move was widely condemned by human rights advocates, including the United Nations. The UN Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, said it “marks a new low further violating the right to equal education and deepens the erasure of women from Afghan society.”

This war on women is mirrored in Iran, where the government is doubling down in its violent repression of months-long protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 in the custody of Iran’s “morality police.” The 22-year-old woman was arrested for allegedly not wearing the hijab in accordance with government standards.

UN Secretary-General Warns of Catastrophic Famine

Addressing the G20, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned, “We are on the way to a raging food catastrophe.” Guterres called for increased financing for the Global South, which is being battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, rapid population growth, the climate crisis, escalating conflict, as well as rising food and fertilizer prices accelerated by the war in Ukraine.

There are now 349 million people experiencing acute food insecurity, up from 287 million in 2021. One of the worst affected areas is the drought-stricken Horn of Africa. In Somalia alone, which has a fertility rate of 5.7 births per woman, the number of people facing “catastrophic” acute food shortage is expected to increase from 5.6 million in December 2022 to 8.3 million by June 2023.

Roe’s 50th Anniversary That Wasn’t

January 22, 2023, marked 50 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, which created the constitutional right to abortion across the United States. With the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe in June last year, this anniversary was unfortunately not an occasion to celebrate. At the time of writing, most abortions have been fully banned in 13 states, with a six-week ban in place in another, and four states with 15-, 18-, or 20-week bans.

Maternal and Infant Mortality Highest in Abortion Ban States

Women living in states that banned abortion after the overturning of Roe are up to three times more likely to die during pregnancy, childbirth, or soon after giving birth, according to a report by the Gender Equity Policy Institute published in January. Black women are the worst affected, with seven out of 10 living in states that ban or restrict abortion. Additionally, babies born in these states were found to be 30 percent more likely to die in their first month of life, with Black babies facing double the likelihood of death over white babies.

Lack of safe abortion care itself represents a major threat to women’s lives but another reason for these differences is that states hostile to abortion have higher poverty rates and worse health indicators, while also making contraception more difficult to access and failing to provide medically accurate sex education, leading to more unintended pregnancies.