Improving access to birth control is the key in the fight against environmental devastation, campaigners have said.
Human population growth is one of the greatest threats to the planet and experts are now demanding women have better access to contraception.
Today, over 150 organisations have joined together to recognise the ‘ignored issue’ that better family planning is crucial to securing the future of the globe.
They are pushing for greater links to be made between health and environmental charities and more funding be made available for women, especially in developing countries.
Dr Jane Goodall, one of the signatories to the Thriving Together campaign, said: ‘One challenge that we have to face, if we care about the future of Planet Earth, is the impact of our own species.
‘The planet only has finite natural resources and in some places we are plundering them faster than Mother Nature can replenish them.’
She added: ‘Women everywhere must be able to choose whether to have children, how many children, and the spacing between them.
‘This is critical for their own wellbeing. But, they also need to be equipped with the knowledge as to how their choice affects the health of the planet and thus the future of their own children.
‘For we are part of the natural world and rely on its “services” for our very survival.’
The United Nations has projected that the population will grow from today’s 7.7 billion people to 9.8 billion by 2050.
Worldwide an estimated two out of every five pregnancies are unintended.
However, if the average number of children per mother were to decrease by 0.5, the global population would gradually decline to 7.3 billion by 2100.
Rather than aim for a ‘target’ to reduce the global population, campaigners say a more sustainable way forward is unrestricted access to family planning services worldwide.
Proper access to birth control will mean more girls stay in school and are educated to a higher standard.
Families are smaller, with children more widely spaced thus improving the health of mother and baby.
In turn, the world can better cope with its dwindling natural resources.
Growing communities expand into previously untouched forests and habitats, risking the ecosystems and species living there.
Dr Goodall highlighted the issue citing her pioneering work with the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, east Africa.
She said that when her research first began in 1960, it was part of a forest belt that stretched three-quarters of the way across the African continent.
By 1990, she said as she flew over the area, its hills were almost entirely bare and the soil was over-farmed and infertile.
She continued: ‘It was then that I realised that we could not even try to protect the chimpanzees and their habitat unless we could help the people find ways of making a living without destroying the environment.’
Dr Goodall noted that one child from a wealthy family will consume more than a child from a poor family and the entire globe has a part to play.
In 1968 the United Nations made it a basic human right for each woman to decide the number and spacing of her children.
However access to contraception, especially in rural parts of Africa and Asia, has not kept up with these legal changes.
Religious and cultural obstacles often prevent women getting access to condoms, implants and pills.
Women might also have to trek for hours on foot to the nearest clinic where it is hit-and-miss if there is a trained professional on hand.
Now 151 organisations have joined forces to create the Thriving Together campaign, which is spearheaded by the London-based Margaret Pyke Trust.
Together they spend £8 billion each year on family planning and environmental work in 170 countries globally.
Among the organisations are Greenpeace, Marie Stopes International, the United Nations Population Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population & Reproductive Health.
The campaign will focus on getting the environmental organisations to talk about family planning and vice versa in a co-ordinated approach.
They have launched their campaign on World Population Day and plan to table a motion at the 2020 World Conservation Congress to get it on the agenda of national governments worldwide.
Chief Executive at the Margaret Pyke Trust, David Johnson, said: ‘We know that family planning is not a panacea for all environmental challenges.
‘But there are areas where population growth resulting from barriers to family planning is a major direct environmental issue.
‘But it is an issue which is almost entirely ignored.
‘Family planning provision is the best way to respond to critical conservation challenges.’
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