Improving girls’ access to education and reproductive health is one of the most promising ways to stop man-made global warming, according to a report released Tuesday. The report lists a range of solutions to the threat of climate change. Of the 76 solutions, health and education issues came in second place, including reducing food waste and eating a plant-rich diet that, taken together, could limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
The report, entitled “The Drawdown Review,” is a follow-up to the 2017 New York Times bestseller Drawdown. The book finds that the contribution of girls’ education to a sustainable future is comparable to the combined benefits of rooftop solar and solar farms. The same is true of family planning.
The new report says ensuring high-quality education and reproductive health services, especially for women and girls, will prevent the planet from warming between 2020 and 2050 by more than 85 gigatonnes of hot carbon dioxide. It’s like stopping nearly 22,000 coal-fired power plants. The report was produced by scientists and advocates for the nonprofit Project Drawdown, a project co-founded by Drawdown editor and environmentalist Paul Hawken.
When education improves, there is a ripple effect: women gain political and economic power. They also have more resources to help them choose when and how to start a family. When this happens, the report notes, fertility usually declines. People tend to get married and have children later, and do so when they have fewer children. The researchers who put the report together estimate that emissions per capita fall (with differences between countries) as fewer and fewer people in the world use energy for food and clothing.
“We’re not talking about population control at all,” Crystal Chissell, vice president of the Drawdown program, said clearly. Chissell says her new report is talking about women who want access to reproductive health services. Chissell points out that 214 million women worldwide want to avoid pregnancy but do not have modern methods of contraception. (She cites data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group on reproductive health advocacy and research. Women who have historically been marginalized often face greater barriers to access to education and birth control – whether for cost or policy reasons.
“We’re not saying that women have to take on the burden of tackling climate change,” Chissell cautioned. But the report makes it clear that the status of women and girls around the world is vital to shaping the world of the future.