Developing countries are typically wary of the high cost of containing climate change, because efforts to do so allocate resources away from other more important objectives. In countries such as India, where social schemes form a large part of the government expenditure, this takes the form of a choice between development versus climate change action. A new paper from the Center for Global Development tries to show that some of these trade-offs can be negated.
In The Economics of Population Policy for Carbon Emissions Reduction in Developing Countries, David Wheeler and Dan Hammer contend that increased financing for female literacy and family planning can contribute more towards climate change mitigation and adaptation than any other measure currently in use. They calculate that every $1 million spent on these two metrics would save 250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission. In comparison, investing the same amount in energy-efficient buildings would save 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide; in nuclear energy, 40,000 tonnes; and in carbon capture and storage, a lowly 26,316 tonnes.
The importance of women in sustainable development, and, therefore, in climate change mitigation has been stressed earlier, too. In communities that depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, women are the arbiters of a household’s energy use through their control over food and water supply. In this context, education for women can help communities reduce emissions and adopt sustainable living practices. Besides, literacy and family planning also slow population growth, further reducing the human footprint.
To be sure, there is room for scepticism. Weak institutional frameworks in India, for example, mean quality education for a large female population is an expensive and challenging proposition. And in the absence of affordable alternative energy supply, even informed communities would have little choice but to continue depending on “dirty” sources.
Yet at a time when governments across the world are doing more than ever to curb climate change, policies that can embrace two supposedly dichotomous objectives are welcome. Wheeler and Hammer suggest greater financing towards education for girls and family planning. Surely, it will cause little harm if such spending can also contribute to keeping the world a stable place.
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