The 2020 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) concluded last week with the drafting of a ministerial declaration on sustainable development in “the decade of action and delivery.” The declaration sums up major takeaways following two weeks of meetings and discussion, with a list of resolutions to be adopted by ECOSOC going forward. 

One key point reiterated in the declaration is the commitment to prioritize women and girls in efforts to rebuild sustainably. However, the success of these efforts will depend on how the UN defines “the empowerment of all women and girls” in the context of sustainable development. As discussed in a previous article, sustainable development measures are commonly linked to the promotion of abortion and contraception, which in turn are often included in “women’s empowerment” initiatives from the UN.

Reputed scientific studies have shown that abortion and contraception are not effective responses to the global climate crisis because they work only to control population. However, there is no direct link between countries with low fertility rates and higher greenhouse gas emissions. Several countries in Europe already have fertility rates so low that further reduction would destabilize the economy; yet their carbon emissions far exceed those of developing countries with high birth rates.

The real primary contributor to global warming issues is over-consumption of fossil fuels in wealthy industrialized nations, where studies say no amount of population control would be enough to make global warming manageable. Saturating women in less developed countries with contraceptives cannot change this imbalance, and furthermore diverts focus of the climate movement from building real sustainable solutions.

What has shown a positive correlation with reduced carbon emission is the presence of women at decision making tables. Countries with more women in political leadership tend to have lower CO2 emissions and improved outcomes of climate related projects and policies. This makes sense, considering women’s central role in families and communities that makes them uniquely positioned to recognize the solutions that work best on a local basis and translate them into action. 

To make good on this ministerial declaration, the UN must recognize that abortion and contraception, besides being a false form of “empowerment”, do not even practically help the planet. Genuine empowerment of women and girls means supporting their education and autonomy with respect for human dignity, rather than using women as vehicles for population control. In this way, nations really can “build back better” in a way that promotes the life and health of the environment and of humanity for generations to come.