Family planning is a human right!

Condoms Family planning is a human right (© Joe Cicak/Istockphoto)
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End of campaign: Jun 5, 2020

The human population and the resources it consumes has a major impact on the planet. Curbing population growth would ease pressure on the environment: this can best be realized by securing women’s rights, reducing poverty and promoting voluntary family planning.

Call to action

To: the governments of the Member States of the United Nations

“Governments must prioritize women’s rights and the availability of contraceptives.”

Read letter

There is no denying the impact humans are having on the planet: deforestation, extinction and climate change. Slowing or halting population growth would go a long way toward easing the pressure on the environment in the long run.

According to the United Nations, the world’s human population is currently 7.7 billion; it is forecast to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050.

It has been shown time and again that birth rates decline dramatically as economic development progresses. Experts call this the demographic transition. The importance of eradicating poverty thus goes beyond moral considerations alone.

Many women, especially in developing countries, would prefer to have fewer children and have them later in life, but are not given that choice. Men often take charge of family planning. We therefore need to strengthen the rights of women the world over. These include, first and foremost, education for girls beyond primary school, as well as employment opportunities. Access to contraceptives and healthcare are also vital.

In short: empowering women is good for the planet!

The UN recently held a summit on population development in Nairobi – only the second one in 25 years. Let’s ensure that more comes out of it than mere lip service: tell the participating governments to show greater commitment to women’s rights and access to contraceptives.


World Population Prospects of the United Nations

- While the world population is growing, it is doing so more slowly than at any time since the 1950s due to the falling birth rate. In the medium-variant projection, the number of people will increase from 7.7 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion in 2100. It is possible that the human population will have then reached its peak.

- Population growth poses major challenges, particularly for the 47 poorest countries. In some, the population will double by 2050.

More than 50 percent of the predicted population growth is concentrated in only nine countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and the United States. India will surpass China as the most populous country around 2027. The population will shrink in 55 countries and regions.

- The birth rate has fallen significantly in many countries, so that more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where women have on average less than 2.1 children, i.e. where the population is not growing.

In 2019, 2.5 children per woman were born worldwide, in 2050 it will be 2.2 and in 2100 an estimated 1.9.

Regions in which the birth rate lies above 2.1 children per woman include sub-Saharan Africa (4.6 vs. 6.3 in 1990), Oceania (3.4 vs. 4.5), North Africa and West Asia (2.9 vs. 4.4) and Central and South Asia (2.4 vs. 4.3). Rates are expected to fall further, in sub-Saharan Africa for example, to 3.1 in 2050 and 2.1 in 2100.

The birth rates in Latin America and the Caribbean (2.0 vs. 3.3) and East and Southeast Asia (1.8 vs. 2.5) are below 2.1 children per woman. The rate is 1.8 children per woman in Australia and New Zealand, while in Europe and North America it is as low as 1.7.

Even if the birth rate in the countries with the highest rate were to immediately fall to two children per woman, two-thirds of the projected growth until 2050 would likely still occur. This is because of the large share of children and young people in the population who will reach reproductive age and become parents in the coming decades.

- Life expectancy at birth has increased worldwide by eight years since 1990, to 72.6 years. By 2050, that figure is expected to rise further to 77.1 years. However, there are considerable regional differences: Due to high infant and maternal mortality, HIV and violent conflicts, life expectancy in the poorest countries is lower than the global average by up to 7.4 years. Significant improvements have been seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where life expectancy has increased by 12 years to 61.1 years. In Central and South Asia, it rose by 11 years to 69.9.

The differences in life expectancy between countries are striking: In Japan, for example, it is 84 years, while it is less than 55 years in the Central African Republic, Chad, Lesotho, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

- Between 2010 and 2020, 36 countries and regions will each see the immigration of more than 200,000 people, with 14 of these countries and regions receiving more than one million people within a decade.

- Between 2015 and 2020, an estimated 62 million babies will be born worldwide by women aged between 15 and 19 years.

Unwanted pregnancies

An estimated 200 million women worldwide would use contraception if they had access to it, according to a study published in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health. The United Nations Population Fund estimates this number to be as high as 232 million women in developing countries alone. This leads to around 99 million unwanted pregnancies every year, which corresponds to 44 percent of all pregnancies. About half of them end in abortion and a smaller share in miscarriage.

The causes are poor access to and the high cost of contraceptives and healthcare, as well as objections to contraceptives by men and traditional social and religious norms.

UNICEF estimates that 12 million minors under the age of 18 will be married this year, 82 percent of them girls. This not only violates children’s rights to education, it often leads to early pregnancies with high maternal mortality.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

25 years ago, the Cairo Programme of Action, which emphasized women’s right to self-determination, was adopted during the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). However, there have been considerable deficits in its implementation.

It took until November 2019 for a follow-up conference to be held, the ICPD25 in Nairobi.

Resistance to family planning, sex education and abortion is strong, and in some cases growing, among leaders of various religions, right-wing populists in Europe and, last but not least, US President Trump, who has drastically cut payments to the UN Population Fund and many nongovernmental organizations.

Resource consumption – Earth Overshoot Day

Resource consumption varies dramatically from country to country. Our overall consumption is illustrated impressively by Earth Overshoot Day – the date on which humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was on 29 July – as early as it has ever been.

To cover its current resource consumption sustainably, humanity would need 1.75 Earths.

If all of humanity had the lifestyle of the United States, we would need five Earths; for Germany it would be three, for France and the United Kingdom, it would be 2.7, and for Spain, 2.5 Earths.

Resource consumption and carbon emissions

According to the European Union, CO2 emissions in 2017 amounted to 4.91 tons per person worldwide; the average for the EU was significantly higher at 6.97, and even higher in Germany at 9.7 tons per person.

Canada (16.85), Australia (16.45) and the USA (15.74) are the leading per-capita CO2 emitters. In China the figure is 7.72 tons per capita, in India 1.83. The countries with the lowest emissions per capita are Côte d'Ivoire (0.51), Nigeria (0.50), Liberia (0.24) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (0.04).

In absolute terms, China produces the most CO2 emissions – almost 11 gigatons out of 37 gigatons worldwide – followed by the USA and the EU28. At the other end of the scale, Nigeria emits 0.09, and Liberia 0.001 gigatons.


DSW (Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung)

World Population Growth – charts and explanations

Population Europe

Information from the UN

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

International Conference on Population and Development

UNFPA: Family Planning

UNFPA: Climate Change

UNFPA: The Demography of Adaptation to Climate Change

Friends of the UNFPA

UN World Population Prospects 2019

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs - Population

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs - Population Dynamics

UN Women

Videos and animations

Overpopulation – The Human Explosion Explained

The Overpopulation Myth

Will saving poor children lead to overpopulation?

Other media

In Uganda, Groups Offering Contraception and Family Planning...

We’ve worried about overpopulation for centuries. And we’ve always been wrong.

I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation.

What’s driving Africa’s population growth. And what can change it

Research institutions

Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Population Europe


To: the governments of the Member States of the United Nations

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The figures on population development speak a clear language: According to the United Nations, the world’s human population is currently 7.7 billion; forecasts indicate that it could increase to 9.7 billion by 2050.

Resource consumption by a growing population has an undeniable impact on the environment and climate, and slowing its growth would reduce additional burdens.

Experience has shown that a country’s birth rate declines as economic development progresses. The eradication of poverty is thus a central concern beyond moral considerations alone.

Many women, especially in developing countries, would prefer to have fewer children and have them later in life, but cannot do so as men often take charge of family planning. The rights of women must therefore be strengthened. These include, first and foremost, education for girls beyond primary school, as well as employment opportunities. Access to contraceptives and healthcare is also vital.

Please work to ensure that women’s rights, education for girls and access to contraceptives and medical care are given more weight.

Yours faithfully,