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BusinessGreen, July 5, 2010

Family planning offset scheme backs first wave of projects
Optimum Population Trust announces £10,000 of funding for family planning projects in the UK and Madagascar

By James Murray

Companies looking to offset their carbon emissions will from today be offered access to an innovative yet controversial new model for tackling greenhouse gas emissions that allows them to fund projects designed to curb population growth.

The initiative is the work of UK-based charity the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), which campaigns for improved access to family planning as the most effective means of addressing numerous environmental and development challenges.

The charity has risen in prominence in the past few years and secured a host of high-profile backers in the form of its patrons Sir David Attenborough, Dr James Lovelock and Jonathon Porritt.

Late last year the organisation launched an initiative called PopOffsets, which aims to apply the carbon offset model to family planning projects, arguing that the avoidance of unwanted pregnancies represents one of the most effective means of tackling rising carbon emissions.

According to research undertaken by the OPT, every £4 spent on providing unmet demand for family planning saves one tonne of CO2, while a similar reduction would require an £8 investment in tree planting, £15 in wind power, £31 in solar energy and £56 in hybrid vehicle technology.

Now the charity has identified the first two projects it will fund through its offset programme, announcing that it has provided £5,000 to the Brook sexual health charity in the UK and a further £5,000 to a development project in Madagascar, which aims to make family planning services available to the Velondriake fishing community.

OPT Chair Roger Martin explained the charity had chosen to back projects in both the developed and developing world as rising populations and the associated increase in carbon emissions need to be understood as a global issue.

"Our contribution underlines our recognition of the far greater carbon footprint/environmental impact of each additional unwanted birth in the UK than in any developing country – hence our policy of dividing our funding between rich and poor countries," he said. "Our carbon offset scheme, PopOffsets, does not let developed nations 'off the hook'. We simply must reduce both our own excessive carbon emissions, individually and nationally, and – by voluntary means – the number of our own carbon emitters. But we also have to help over 200 million women in the world, many with no access to family planning, to take control of their own fertility."

Dr Vik Mohan, a voluntary worker with the Velondriake project in Madagascar, welcomed the new funding, arguing that it would help to support a family planning project that aims to improve living standards for the community at the same time as curbing environmental impacts.

"We are experiencing a growing demand for family planning services, and we welcome the funding from the Optimum Population Trust to help us to deliver them to those who need it," he said. "Their families benefit, the fish stocks benefit, and the planet benefits – it’s a win, win, win situation."

Family planning projects remain highly controversial, with some religious groups opposing any development projects that include support for contraception. Several right-wing commentators have also attacked the model, accusing it of representing a form of environmental imperialism.

However, Martin defended the new form of carbon offsetting, arguing that environmental challenges will not be overcome as long as population growth rates continue to rise.

"All other development programmes are doomed ultimately to fail if human numbers, rich and poor, keep rising indefinitely on our fragile and finite planet," he said. "As [a recent report from] UNICEF said, 'Family planning could bring more benefits to more people at less cost than any other single technology' – it is indeed the ultimate 'win, win, win' for women, their communities, their countries, and the planet."

© Incisive Media Investments Limited 2010

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton