Caron Whitaker manages the Population & Environment Program at the National Wildlife Federation. This week she is attending a U.N. meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.

Wednesday, 24 Mar 2004

New York, N.Y.

Government delegates from 41 countries are convening this week at the United Nations headquarters for the Commission on Population and Development meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

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The 1994 ICPD conference identified links between population growth, environmental degradation, and development. To address these issues, 179 countries — including the United States — endorsed the goal of universally available reproductive health services, including family planning, by 2015.

During this 10-year anniversary, countries around the world are reaffirming the commitments made in Cairo. So far, the U.S. alone has refused.

Increasing population is one of the greatest threats to our global environment. Population growth exacerbates climate change, deforestation, loss of habitat, and water and air pollution around the globe. Providing universal access to family planning and reproductive health care gives families the information and services they need to make responsible choices. When given these choices, women and couples overwhelmingly choose to have smaller, healthier families.

The U.S. government claims it is committed to providing family-planning services. It says it refuses to reaffirm ICPD simply because the document can be interpreted as promoting abortion — even though the ICPD Program of Action clearly states, “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.”

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However, U.S. claims of support for family planning don’t hold water. President Bush requested only $425 million for international family planning in 2005, a more-than-35-percent reduction from U.S. contributions in 1995. During the past 10 years, the global population has increased by more than half a billion people and over 5 million women have died in childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes — most of them preventable.

The U.S. is particularly behind in meeting the commitment we made at ICPD. At Cairo, donor countries agreed to commit 0.7 percent of their GNP to development assistance. On average the U.S. gives 0.12 percent of its GNP annually to official development assistance — ranking last among the 20 donor countries — with only 0.02 percent going to international family planning.

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In the past year and a half, the U.S. stood alone against ICPD at U.N. regional meetings in Bangkok and Santiago, while 32 and 38 countries, respectively, reaffirmed Cairo.

Today, at the Commission on Population and Development, the G77 (a coalition of developing countries) and the European Union both signaled their ongoing commitment to the consensus and their desire to reaffirm.

However, the U.S. delegation indicated it would once again refuse to reaffirm Cairo and support a sustainable future for women, families, and the environment.

Thursday, 25 Mar 2004

New York, N.Y.

The U.S. delegation at the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) is pulling the commission discussions off track. The commission is meeting at the U.N. this week to†assess progress made†on population issues†since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and to look toward future solutions. Rather than reaffirming the consensus and focusing on the future, the U.S. is hoping to reopen the 10-year-old document.

The Program of Action from the 1994 conference linked population growth, environmental degradation, and sustainable development; 179 countries agreed that the best way to address these issues was to provide universal reproductive health care by 2015. The CPD meeting will assess progress, identify obstacles to delivering these services, and take steps to ensure a sustainable future for the world and its people.

Today, the conference is being dragged off track by side discussions about language in the 1994 document. The U.S. wants explicit language against abortion instead of the current language, which states that abortion laws must be decided at the national level. The National Wildlife Federation does not take a position on abortion, but believes universal access to voluntary family planning is a long-term solution to the pressures on natural resources and wildlife from a growing world population.

The U.S. administration claims to support international family planning, but its actions are not consistent with its rhetoric. Reopening the negotiations over language not only threatens the viability of the Cairo Consensus — a living document that lists as its goals universal education, reduction of infant and maternal mortality, and universal access to family planning and reproductive health — it stops the commission from moving forward on its vital work.

There have been great improvements in the access to and quality of reproductive health care available to women since 1994. More women and families†are using contraception, families have become smaller and healthier, and†almost 95 percent of U.N. members support the work of the U.N. Population Fund, which delivers these services in more than 140 countries, reducing pressure on forests, water, and species. However, there is still work to be done; there are still 120 million couples around the world who want contraceptives but don’t have access, many living in rural areas of high biodiversity and fragile ecosystems.

At the 1994 ICPD, Nafis Sadik — who presided over the conference and is now the U.N. secretary-general’s envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia — said, “If we had paid more attention to empowering women 30 years ago, we might not have to battle so hard for sustainable development today.”

This 10-year anniversary offers the U.N. and its individual members an opportunity not only to reaffirm the promises made at Cairo, but to reinvigorate the fight for healthy families and a healthy planet.

Friday, 26 Mar 2004

New York, N.Y.

Action is stalled today at the U.N. Commission on Population and Development, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain a little about the U.N. process and why these meetings are important from an environmental standpoint.

During the week-long meeting, there are formal sessions where governments make recorded statements on their position and informal sessions where governments negotiate resolutions. Like the U.S. Congress, most of the real work happens outside the main chamber. These informal sessions are only open to government delegations. Non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives lobby government delegations between meetings. Today, governments are meeting in informal sessions to hammer out a resolution on the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Program of Action in Cairo.

Country delegations have broken up into three main groups — the European Union and like-minded countries, the G77 (a coalition of developing countries), and the U.S. Within the groups there are some disagreements. For instance, the G77 countries are negotiating amongst themselves to form a coalition position. If the G77 breaks apart, that will make it easier for the U.S. to lobby individual delegations. If the G77 stays together, the U.S. will be on its own. So the U.S. is instigating dissent between Latin American and Arab countries. The Europeans and others are meeting to strategize how to negotiate with the G77 and the U.S. so that the Cairo Consensus will be reaffirmed.

However, all the groups are running out of time. Tomorrow is the last day and countries are just starting to look at specific language. In principle, the U.N. Commission on Population and Development operates on consensus. If consensus cannot be reached, it is possible for one country to push for a vote. Most countries prefer consensus because then they do not have to declare themselves and risk isolating themselves from allies or their governments back home. On this issue, votes have happened at two out of three regional meetings — once in Bangkok, Thailand, and once in Santiago, Chile. At both, the U.S. alone did not reaffirm Cairo, in votes of 32-1 and 38-1 respectively.

At the global level, population growth drives climate change, deforestation, the expansion of agricultural land, and the pollution of air, water, and soil — problems that can make poor people destitute. At the local level, even as communities try to adopt sustainable practices, if people cannot choose the size of their families, the impact on the environment and resulting poverty will make progress impossible. And on the individual level, it is difficult for a woman to care and become involved in her community, or feel she can make a difference in the world, when she cannot control her own fertility.

At the original Cairo conference, several environmental groups from around the world participated. Groups from the developed countries, like the National Wildlife Federation, sponsored environmental groups from the developing world to ensure global representation. Because of this presence, the links between population growth, environmental degradation, and sustainable development are discussed and highlighted in the Cairo Consensus. At the five-year anniversary of Cairo, countries signed a forward-looking resolution reaffirming Cairo and including the connection between natural resource degradation and increasing population. The document calls on the global community to protect and restore healthy ecosystems.

Unfortunately, this year the discussion about Cairo — including the agenda for this meeting — has stalled. The meeting is focused almost exclusively on the language of the 1994 Conference and not on plans for the future. Because of this focus, it is unlikely that anything that comes out of this commission meeting will discuss the links between population and environmental health. The best we can hope for is a reaffirmation of the 1994 document in its entirety. This is a step backwards in the fight for a healthy global environment.

While it is true that the population growth rate is slowing — which shows that population assistance is working — we are still adding over 73 million people to the world each year. The best way for U.S. environmentalists to reduce stress from population growth is to urge the U.S. government to reaffirm the promises and financial commitments it made at Cairo.

Regardless of what happens here tomorrow, NWF will continue to lobby the U.S. administration and Congress to meet its commitments made at Cairo.

The National Wildlife Federation is one of two dozen organizations that have passed a resolution endorsing the Cairo Consensus and calling for the U.S. to fulfill its Cairo commitments. Please join us by signing onto the “A Mother’s Promise the World Must Keep” campaign. A Mother’s Promise calls on the U.S. government to reaffirm the promises made at Cairo, so that mothers around the world can keep the promises they make to their children — one of education, health care, a clean environment, and a sustainable future.

For more information, please visit the Mother’s Promise Campaign website.

Saturday, 27 Mar 2004

New York, N.Y.

Despite long days and nights, the U.N. Commission on Population and Development failed to produce an agreement on language to reaffirm the Cairo Consensus and the commitments of member nations to make reproductive health care, including family planning, universally available by 2015. After almost nine hours of negotiations, the chair closed the meeting in frustration.

At the time of my last report, governments were divided into three groups, the G77 (a coalition of developing countries), the European Union and like-minded countries, and the U.S. As of 11:30 EST Thursday night, the E.U. and G77 agreed not to accept U.S. amendments to the reaffirmation statement. In the end, the debate came down to three proposals — two by the G77 and one by the E.U. — and a disagreement among members of the E.U. and like-minded nations.

1. The G77 proposed a statement reaffirming the Cairo Consensus that referenced reservations made at earlier meetings.

The U.S. delegations lobbied the G77 nations to ask for reservations, knowing the E.U. countries would not agree. Four G77 countries led the coalition to request that any resolution coming out of the meeting include a reference to reservations made at the 1994 Cairo conference and at the 1999 five-year review.

These requests were in contrast to the statements they made during the first few days of the conference declaring their support of Cairo. More than 90 countries have taken positive action since the 1994 Cairo conference to reduce maternal and infant mortality and improve access to reproductive health care.

2. The E.U. and like-minded countries proposed a clean reaffirmation statement with no reservations attached.

Within the E.U. coalition there is a contingent that would rather have no resolution than one with reservations. Many NGOs, including some European NGOs, disagreed with this position and lobbied to get all E.U. countries to consider compromising on this stance.

3. The G77 is also asking for stronger language on the financial commitments from all countries to fulfill the goals of Cairo.

Most countries, and specifically the U.S., have not lived up to their commitments. At Cairo, it was agreed that developing countries would pay two-thirds of the cost of providing these services, while the donor countries would pay the remaining one-third, with each developed country contributing 0.7 percent of their GNP to development assistance. Currently, the developing countries have met their commitment by 80 percent, while the donor countries have met their commitment by less than 50 percent. Some of the 20 donor countries have actually exceeded the 0.7 percent level of funding. In contrast, the U.S. has fallen behind, ranking last among the 20 donor countries in meeting that commitment.

In the end, the E.U. and the G77 could not agree on the language used to reaffirm Cairo. When the whole commission finally adjourned at 7:30 Friday night there was still no agreement. This is a victory for the U.S. Since the E.U. and G77 nations didn’t have a reaffirmation statement, the U.S. did not have to stand alone against the rest of the world.

NWF advocates for increased funding for the goals of Cairo because we believe funding for voluntary family planning is a long-term solution to the pressures from the growing human population on natural resources. Family planning helps the environment by helping people.

Those of us who support Cairo will look to the regional meetings coming this summer and fall and work with countries to reaffirm Cairo in those smaller forums — including a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean countries meeting in Puerto Rico late June — and will continue to ask U.S. citizens and organizations to reaffirm Cairo through “A Mother’s Promise the World Must Keep.” Please join us in telling the U.S. government and the rest of the world that American people reaffirm Cairo even if our government doesn’t.

Learn more about A Mother’s Promise Campaign at www.amotherspromise.org. To learn more about the CPD conference please contact Caron at Whitaker@nwf.org.