Earth Day Presentation

Elevating Population Dynamics and Family Planning in Environmental Dialogue

This Earth Day, we hosted Dr. Céline Delacroix, Director of the FP/Earth project with Population Institute.

Dr. Delacroix will present the findings from a 2023 journal article she wrote with Dr. Nkechi S. Owoo, a Ghanaian Health and Demographic Economist, that explores the perspectives of sub-Saharan African policymakers, researchers, and activists on the linkages between reproductive rights, population dynamics, and environmental sustainability.

Presentation Date: April 22nd, 2024

Director of FP/Earth Project, Population Institute

Dr. Céline Delacroix is a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Health Sciences. She is the Director of the FP/Earth project with the Population Institute.

Her interdisciplinary research focuses on analyzing how family planning, population size, and environmental sustainability intersect and are perceived. She is looking for ways to harness these linkages to benefit reproductive rights and improve environmental sustainability.

She earned a PhD from the University of Ottawa, an MS from the Free University of Brussels (Belgium), and an LLB from Cardiff University (Wales, UK). Dr. Delacroix also served as Executive Director of several human rights and environmental civil society organizations, including the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and Ethiopiaid Canada.

Q+A

Questions from the audience, with responses from Dr. Céline Delacroix

Who are the stakeholders in your recent report?

Participants in the survey were selected based on the following criteria: (1) being a national of, or holding permanent residence in, a country located in sub-Saharan Africa; and (2) self-identification as working or being “active” in a field that is related to economic, social, or environmental development. “Active” here refers to individuals with a marked interest or concern in these areas of relevance. Participants were thus purposefully sourced from Listservs, personal and professional networks, and word-of-mouth communications, and they were encouraged to share the survey invitation within their own networks.

A conscious effort was made to reach out to a wide variety of experts in sub-Saharan Africa who would reflect a diversity of geographical, professional, and personal viewpoints. As such, the participant search was made by sector (academia, government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)), disciplinary field (health, reproductive health and rights, environment, economics, gender, agriculture, and development), and geographical location. In our search, we made efforts to maximize the sample diversity by aiming to represent youth, women, and marginalized communities.

In total, we obtained 402 responses. Survey participants were given the opportunity to indicate their interest in a virtual follow-up interview online on the issues mentioned above. All participants who expressed an interest in the follow-up interview were contacted, and fourteen (14) virtual, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with those who responded to the invitation. Interviews were also conducted, in English and French, with stakeholders from sub-Saharan Africa who were present at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 meeting in Montreal in December 2022 (4 participants). In total, 18 interviews were conducted.

This is the link to the full paper if you would like to learn more:

Of the people who reacted with anger in your survey, do they tend to be men or women?

I chose not to analyze this emerging theme based on gender because the scope and objectives of the survey did not focus on examining demographic differences. I was also concerned that focusing on gender might overlook some of the more complex factors influencing emotional responses, such as the survey’s context or wording, which could provide more meaningful insights.

What are the best practices for addressing rapid population growth in regions that still experience high fertility rates, such as sub- Saharan Africa?

Invest in education, gender equity, and reproductive health and rights. Improve demographic literacy and encourage discussions on the social, economic, and environmental implications of rapid population growth. Promote programmatic approaches that address the intersectoral linkages at play here, such as the Population, Health, and Environment approach.

As a donor to organizations providing health care in sub-Saharan Africa, which are the most proactive regarding family planning?

There are plenty of initiatives that work on removing barriers to, and expanding access to, family planning. The Margaret Pyke Trust, for example, integrates family planning and conservation action.

Can we expect a ‘soft landing’ (i.e., usual demographic transition) for countries with high fertility in West Africa, such as Niger, or can we expect death rates to rise because countries cannot feed their growing populations?

I try to remain hopeful that situations of extreme hardship will be avoided, as many of the variables involved in this equation are reasonably within our (human) reach. These include peace and security, food production and distribution, public health, etc. Overall, I am cautious of forecasts exclusively based on demographic trajectories given the number of confounding variables at play. However, it is clear that countries with high fertility face more pressing challenges, and that the landscape for global food security is dire.

The “rights” debate only works when all parties recognize the authority of the entity issuing the “rights.” What nation-states acknowledge the authority of “Programme of Action, 1994”? The United States does not. If recognized by Canada, what is the codification?

The US holds a paradoxical stance on human rights treaties; it plays a crucial role in advocating for their creation but consistently hesitates to ratify them. This reluctance extends beyond sensitive issues like reproductive rights to include the rights of persons with disabilities, among others. The Programme of Action was “adopted” by 179 states but isn’t legally binding as such.

If you would like to learn more on the legal status of reproductive rights, this article provides a great overview:

Why are population issues rarely mentioned in news reports about the climate crisis, and what can be done to address this gap?

I’d like to refer you to a paper I co-authored with Robert Engelman on this, and I hope that you will enjoy reading it:

I have been concerned about global estimates of peaking population postponed while watching climate impacts increase for 50 years. Can we be sure the population will stop growing or declining without perpetual updating and postponing?

Population fertility and growth rates are declining globally. These trends are well established and signal that population growth will likely end this century. As a result, the concern is rising all over the world over the decline of populations both on a practical level (what are the implications of aging populations for healthcare, the economy, etc.) and on a more conceptual or existential one (does this signal the extinction of our own species?). This distracts us from focusing on our current population landscape: a global population projected to grow by another 2.4 billion humans in the next decades. It also distracts us from reflecting on the implications of our current population size.

Are there any developing countries that have sustainable population policies? Can others use them as a model? 

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs issues a report on Population Policies, which is a useful resource. This report shows that countries with higher fertility rates tend to have policies to lower fertility, and the opposite is also true.

Does increasing immigration help us achieve population sustainability?

Increasing immigration can influence population dynamics, as immigrants often align with the fertility rates of their host country soon after arrival; for example (immigrants from high-fertility countries typically have fewer children than they might have in their home country). I do not think, however, that immigration should not be seen as a potential “solution” to achieve a sustainable population size. When reflecting on carrying capacity and the size of the global population the planet can sustainably support, individual footprints should be harmonized to a level that meets human needs and enables adequate well-being.

That being said, emigration from countries experiencing rapid population growth emigration can help alleviate some of the pressures associated with this rapid growth, and conversely, immigration to countries with aging populations can benefit from an influx of younger workers. As such, if the right conditions are present, immigration can play a beneficial role towards sustainable development.