Reproductive Health and Environmental Action Groups Unite

January 12, 2012

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Expert Panel Urges an Alliance as the Rio+20 Summit Approaches

Note to Editors: Speakers are available for interviews upon request in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. (Please contact Photos and a blog will be available here. Population and climate change maps and resources are here. Follow activities and updates on Twitter at @GLCRHresolve; and join the conversation using #Rio.

WASHINGTON, DC (12 January 2012) – Global weather volatility and the ongoing financial crisis increase the need for new approaches to sustainable development. Meanwhile, 215 million women worldwide lack the means to choose how many children to have and when, because they lack access to reproductive health services and information.

At a panel organized by The Aspen Institute at the Kaiser Family Foundation today, leaders in environment, sustainability and women’s rights pointed to strategic collaboration as the key to the promise of sustainable development that will be revisited in negotiations at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Summit in June 2012.

“Rio+20 presents an opportunity for leaders to make courageous decisions now to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a livable world. The environmental and reproductive health activists must move forward together and create a more just future for all,” said panelist Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and former President of Ireland.

The original 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro established three pillars – economic, social, and environmental – as the interdependent foundation to develop sustainably. “Going forward, issues of equity and the right to development will be paramount to protect the most vulnerable people whose most basic rights to food, water and health are undermined by the impacts of climate change,” said Robinson.

The roundtable, “The Road to Rio: Climate Change, Population and Sustainability,” was part of the 7 Billion: Conversations that Matter roundtable series. Robinson and her fellow panelists were present in ’92 at Rio and in ’94 at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. They included Rachel Kyte, The World Bank’s Vice President of Sustainable Development; Robert Engelman, President of Worldwatch Institute; and Carmen Barroso, Regional Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region. The discussion was moderated by Peggy Clark, Executive Director, Aspen Global Health and Development, and Vice President, Policy Programs at The Aspen Institute.

Rachel Kyte said that “2012, with Rio+20 as its highlight, offers the opportunity to reframe the global conversation on sustainable development today. We need to bring data and evidence to facilitate decisions on the policy choices and trade-offs necessary for greener and more inclusive growth.”

Robinson, who chairs the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, said, “Global leaders must recognize the role of women as agents of change in their homes, communities and countries, and their intimate understanding of the inter-generational aspects of climate change.”

“It’s about the facts,” said Barroso, who talked about how her native country, Brazil, successfully dedicated resources and expertise to meet demand for family planning. “We’ve always known that there are millions of women – especially the young women – who want to delay or avoid their next pregnancy but do not have access to family planning information and services. Recent research shows that meeting this need, and thereby slowing population growth, could reduce carbon emissions by 16-29% of the emission reductions necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.

“It is also about human rights and social justice,” she continued. “Relatively inexpensive policies to provide comprehensive sexuality education and access to contraception can meet the basic human right to decide how many children to have. And it is just common sense – universal access to family planning is a key intervention for sustainable development.”

Robert Engelman agreed with the need to focus on the science. “Empowering women to realize their reproductive intentions would slow and eventually end the world’s population growth much faster than demographers now anticipate,” Engelman said. “Research suggests the savings in greenhouse gas emissions could be similar in 2050 to those achieved by stopping all deforestation by then, but the environmental benefits of a stable population are multiple and will keep compounding over time. Access to family planning is a concrete intervention that is relatively low-cost – especially considering these multiple benefits.”

The panel agreed that the Rio +20 Summit is an important opportunity to revisit economic, social and environmental justice and explore how they connect. Clark concluded, “We must return again to the fundamental premise of what we mean by sustainability, as first coined 25 years ago by the Brundtland Commission – and which extends beyond environmental concerns to include women, rights, population and equitable economic development.”

The “7 Billion: Conversations that Matter” roundtable series marks the fact that this October, the world reached the watermark of a population of seven billion. The series, organized by The Aspen Institute, brings thought leaders together from diverse sectors to explore key relationships between population, food security, reproductive health, the environment, health, and development overall in a provocative and informative conversation. This event is focused on environment, climate change and sustainable development in relation to population and family planning.


The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health is an unprecedented effort to increase momentum at the highest political levels for increased support for access to reproductive health as a key development investment. Chaired by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, these senior leaders from more than a dozen countries believe that expanding access to reproductive health will be a breakthrough strategy for lasting development and prosperity worldwide. The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health is a program of Aspen Global Health and Development at the Aspen Institute.

Panelist Biographies

Mary Robinson is President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She served as President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002. She is a member of the Elders and the Club of Madrid and the recipient of numerous honours and awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States Barack Obama. A former President of the International Commission of Jurists and former chair of the Council of Women World Leaders she was President and founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative from 2002-2010. Mary Robinson serves as Honorary President of Oxfam International and is a board member of several organisations including the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the European Climate Foundation. Mary is the Chancellor of the University of Dublin since 1998.

Rachel Kyte is Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank. As such, she has overall responsibilities for the organization’s global work in agriculture, the environment, infrastructure, urban development, and social development. From 2008-September 2011, Ms. Kyte was Vice President for Business Advisory Services at the International Finance Corporation, the private sector focused arm of the World Bank Group. Here, she focused IFC’s Advisory Services to deliver more measurable impact for the world’s poorest people and in the most challenging environments, including countries affected by conflict. She also spearheaded adoption of the IFC Development Goals, the first set of development goals specific to the private sector. Prior to joining IFC in 2000, she was a member of the management team of the World Conservation Union—IUCN. She has held elected positions in Europe, and founded and led non-government organizations focusing on women, the environment, health, and rights. Ms. Kyte holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a Bachelor of Arts in politics and history from the University of London.

Robert Engelman is president of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. The Population Institute awarded his book, More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, the Global Media Award for Individual Reporting in 2008. Engelman’s writing also has appeared in such publications as Nature, The Washington Post, Scientific American and The Wall Street Journal. A former newspaper reporter who covered science and politics, Engelman served on the faculty of Yale University as a visiting lecturer in the early 2000s and was founding secretary of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Dr. Carmen Barroso has served as the Regional Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR) since 2003. Through its 40 member associations in the Americas and the Caribbean, IPPF/WHR provides almost 27 million services annually. In 1991, Dr. Barroso became the first non-American woman to be appointed as director in a major U.S. foundation. She was the Director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Population & Reproductive Health program until 2003. Under her leadership, the program funded hundreds of local organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and helped bring the voices and experiences of women from the global south to international policy fora. In particular, Dr. Barroso has been recognized by the media and academics for the influential role she played in making the health and human rights central to development policy at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. She has served on several boards and international commissions, including the Millennium Project Task Force on MDG 3, and the Brazilian Commission on Reproductive Health, a pioneer effort for engaging multiple stakeholders in accountability for women’s health policies. Dr. Barroso currently serves on the boards of the International AIDS Alliance and IBIS, and is Co-chair of PAHO’s Panel on Gender and Health, where she plays a vital role in leading the design and implementation of a participatory accountability mechanism for the Regional Program of Action on Gender and Health at the country and regional levels.

Peggy Clark is the Vice President of Policy Programs and the Executive Director of Aspen Global Health and Development. As Vice President of Policy Programs, Peggy provides strategic oversight and guidance to the Institute’s 26 policy programs. As Executive Director of Aspen Global Health and Development, Peggy leads programs promoting breakthrough approaches to global development including the Ministerial Leadership Initiative, a five year program designed to build the capacity of ministries of health in Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Nepal; the Health Worker Migration Initiative and its high level Council which led the adoption of the historic WHO Global Code of Practice; The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health and IDEA initiatives, working with policymakers and development practitioners to assert the centrality of reproductive health to development overall; and the TransFarm Africa Initiative, which is pioneering new approaches to transformative agricultural development and trade in Africa.

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