In the News, March 2024

Written by Olivia Nater, Communications Manager | Published: March 11, 2024

COP28 climate agreement a mixed bag

COP28, 2023’s most important international climate change meeting, wrapped up in mid-December. Nations agreed for the first time to “transition away from fossil fuels,” which was seen by many as a significant victory.

However, the agreement is nowhere near ambitious enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C by 2100 — a goal laid out in the Paris Agreement of 2015. Meeting the Paris target is deemed critical by climate scientists as exceeding this warming threshold significantly increases the risk of triggering catastrophic environmental tipping points.

The COP28 agreement doesn’t set concrete targets or deadlines, making it unclear how and when the “transition” is supposed to happen. It also fails to address major drivers of greenhouse gas emissions, including agriculture and population growth, and makes little progress toward increasing financial assistance for developing countries that are unfairly facing the brunt of climate impacts.

China’s population continues slow decline

China’s population fell for the second year in 2023, shrinking by 2.08 million, after declining by 850,000 in 2022. This continued decline is a natural result of falling birth rates, yet many media stories have portrayed it as a disaster due to the dampening effects population decline and aging can have on economic growth.

China ended its coercive one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child policy, and then a three-child policy in 2021. In recent years, the Chinese government has also rolled out cash incentives for childbearing, as well as campaigns to promote traditional gender roles and larger families. Family size has continued to shrink, however — according to UN data, China’s fertility rate (the average number of lifetime births per woman) now stands at around 1.2, down from 1.8 in 2016.

While sub-replacement fertility is the norm across higher-income countries, surveys of Chinese women reveal that pervasive gender inequality is a major reason an increasing number of women are foregoing marriage and childbearing altogether — a similar situation as in neighboring South Korea, which had the world’s lowest fertility rate in 2022, at just 0.78 births per woman.

Impact of U.S. international family planning funding

In January, the Guttmacher Institute published updated calculations on the impacts of U.S. family planning assistance on women in developing countries. While the U.S. currently contributes $607.5 million annually for international family planning, the country’s “fair share” (proportionate to the size of the U.S. economy) is $1.74 billion — almost three times higher. Increasing family planning assistance to this level would avert an additional 20.3 million unintended pregnancies, and prevent an additional 35,000 maternal deaths each year.

As some U.S. policymakers are proposing family planning funding cuts instead of increases, Guttmacher also warns that every $10 million decrease in funding below current levels would increase the annual number of unintended pregnancies by 174,000, unplanned births by 69,000, and unsafe abortions by 56,000.

U.S. not on track to meet climate goals

U.S. emissions declined by 1.9% in 2023 despite economic growth of 2.4%, according to preliminary estimates by the research company Rhodium Group. The decline is mainly attributed to a relatively mild winter and reductions in energy generation from coal power plants. Emissions from the transportation sector rose by 1.6% relative to 2022, while increases in domestic oil and gas production caused a 1% increase in industrial emissions. The researchers note:

A decline in economy-wide emissions is a step in the right direction, but that rate of decline needs to more than triple and sustain at that level every year from 2024 through 2030 in order to meet the U.S.’s climate target under the Paris Agreement of a 50-52% reduction in emissions.

Researchers propose novel climate mitigation pathway to address overshoot

A recent paper in Environmental Research Letters lays out a new “holistic, restorative scenario” to tackle climate change. The study highlights the critical need to address the interconnectedness of our planetary crises, from global warming to biodiversity loss to food scarcity and pandemics. It puts forward an alternative to mainstream climate change mitigation scenarios that would bend the curve on all detrimental environmental trends (not just emissions) while decreasing inequalities and advancing social justice. Proposed measures include improving gender equality to end population growth, cutting overconsumption and giving up the pursuit of endless economic growth in wealthy countries, reducing meat production, and protecting more nature.

Hope for African elephants

A study published in Science Advances found that African savanna elephant numbers across southern Africa grew by 0.16% annually for the past quarter century, offering a ray of hope for this iconic, endangered species. Unsurprisingly, the authors found that elephant populations living in large, well-protected, and connected areas fared the best.

Across all of Africa, however, elephant numbers are still declining. The African forest elephant, native to West Africa and the Congo Basin, was recently recognized as a separate species, and is even more endangered than the savanna elephant. Both species together number around 415,000, down from an estimated 10 million a century ago. Reasons for this steep loss include poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict, all of which are exacerbated by expanding human populations.

Contact Olivia: