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From changing temperatures and weather patterns to more severe storms and rising sea levels, the effects of climate change are with us and accelerating. It is a global emergency and one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today.

Climate change is a major threat to the vision of human-centered sustainable development outlined in the ICPD Programme of Action and reinforced by the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. It is a multiplier of existing health vulnerabilities, including through insufficient access to safe water and improved sanitation, food insecurity, and impacts on access to health care and education.

Everyone will be impacted, especially those already vulnerable and with limited resources to adapt. Women and girls in particular continue to be left behind. The current efforts to adapt to climate change are simply not sufficient, nor are they always even intended, to prevent disproportionate impacts on women and girls, as well as other populations in vulnerable situations.

Climate change will undermine achievement of three transformative results

The rapid pace of climate change in the next decade will make UNFPA’s three transformative results of ending preventable maternal mortality, ending unmet need for family planning, and ending gender-based violence and harmful practices difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Climate change will have a serious impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Heat worsens maternal and neonatal health outcomes, with greater likelihood of stillbirth.  The risk of negative maternal mortality outcomes will be further harmed by the increased poverty and food insecurity driven by climate-related loss of livelihood.

With increasing drought, women and girls are expected to travel longer distances to collect water and firewood, exposing them to sexual and gender-based violence. In some cases, this loss of livelihood leads to increases in transactional sex and the risk of teenage preganancies. During times of disaster, health services are often limited and at times not available, which means that more women give birth without much-needed medical support. The disruption of health systems leads to unavailability of commodities including contraception which increases the risk of  early, unintended pregnancies

When a climate-related disaster strikes, women and girls are at greater risk of gender-based violence. Girls who are unable to attend school if they are displaced, for instance, risk being married off early by parents who can no longer afford to look after them if they have lost their livelihoods.

Urgent gender-responsive climate action is needed, requiring coordination at – and solutions from – all levels.

UNFPA's response to climate change

UNFPA ESARO, through our county offices, is working with governments and other partners to support adaptation responses to climate change, and to put women and girls at the centre of these efforts. Through an intersectional approach, UNFPA tackles existing inequalities in SRHR and to maximize the power of women and young people to help build adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change. UNFPA has put forward a programme of action around for pillars of work. For further details see: UNFPA and the Climate Crisis: Strengthening Resilience and Protecting Progress within the Decade of Action.

Our work is centered around the four pillars of UNFPA’s value proposition on climate change:

  1. Healthy, empowered populations including women, girls and young people: UNFPA works with rights-focused and gender-centered approaches to strengthening individual and community resilience and engages directly with young people as global and local leaders as climate change and ICPD champions.
  2. Climate-resilient health, protection and education systems: UNFPA works to mainstream climate resilience into health sector policies and plans, integrate health impact indicators especially those related to SRHR into information systems, as well as strengthen the capacity of early warning systems to reduce impacts of climate hazards on health and wellbeing.
  3. Risk reduction, enhanced preparedness and strengthened emergency response: UNFPA builds knowledge and capacity of the linkages between climate related emergencies and SRHR, GBV and other harmful practices and advocates for inclusion of SRHR interventions in disaster risk reduction plans and other relevant training material for emergency response  including the MISP.
  4. Strong data systems for climate vulnerability and adaptive capacity: UNFPA works to ensure that early warning and response for all relevant sectors as well as climate-related vulnerability assessments are built on strong evidence and data systems and take into account overall impacts on sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence risks and protective measures.

FAQ: UNFPA and the Climate Crisis provides detailed information about UNFPA’s position and response to climate change. This video, The Impact of the Climate Crisis on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, is helpful in understanding the linkages.

Climate-related emergencies cause major disruptions in access to health services and life-saving commodities including contraception which increases the risk of  early, unintended pregnancies. Recurrent climate-related service disruptions causing fragile and inaccessible health systems reducing access to skilled care with higher risks of negative outcomes for mother and child and HIV infections. The risk of negative maternal mortality outcomes is further harmed by the increased poverty and food insecurity driven by climate-related loss of livelihoods. Climate-related loss or change of livelihoods, as well as displacement and migration, increase the risks of gender-based violence and harmful practices including child marriage. There are direct and indirect pathways of climate impacts on SRHR, which continue to be the basis of research and implementation.

Urgent action is needed especially in frontline communities to better respond and adapt.  

Climate change is a threat to achieving the SDGs

Climate change is a major threat to the vision of human-centered sustainable development outlined in the ICPD Programme of Action, and reinforced by the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. It is a multiplier of existing health vulnerabilities, including through insufficient access to safe water and improved sanitation, food insecurity, and impacts on access to health care and education. Rising climate-related displacement and livelihood impacts are challenging both the protection and the realization of human rights.

FAQ: UNFPA and the Climate Crisis
Recommendations: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Climate Action
Evidence brief: Child Marriage and Environmental Crises
Advocacy brief: The Impact of the Climate Crisis on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Review summary: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in National Climate Policy
Infographic: Bodily Autonomy and Access to Family Planning are Essential for Responding to Climate Change
Infographic: Climate Change and Gender-Based Violence
Infographic: Environmental Crises Exacerbate Some Drivers of Child Marriage
Infographic: The Negative Impact of Climate Change on Maternal Health
Infographic: Responding to Climate Change Requires Health Systems Strengthening
Animated video: The Impact of the Climate Crisis on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Animated video for adolescents: Climate Change's Impact on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights