U.S. Rejoins Paris Climate Agreement
Only hours after being sworn in as the country’s 46th president, Joe Biden signed an executive order rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, from which Donald Trump had previously withdrawn. The agreement, signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015, encourages countries to voluntarily commit to lowering their carbon emissions with the goal of keeping the total average global temperature increase to under two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Additionally, President Biden ordered federal agencies to begin the process of reinstating the more than 100 environmental regulations weakened or rolled back by the previous administration.
To Slow Climate Change, the Wealthy Must Cut Their Carbon Footprint
The wealthiest 1 percent of the world’s population is responsible for twice the carbon emissions of the bottom 50 percent, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report, released in December 2020, studies the so-called “emissions gap” between wealthy and poor countries, as well as the ways disparities in individual lifestyles contribute to overall emissions levels within countries. It concludes that broad, systemic change—at both the societal and individual level—is needed to meet the emissions goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement. To close the emissions gap and stay under 1.5°C of warming, wealthy individuals must reduce their emissions by a factor of 30, while the poorest 50 percent of people could triple their current emissions.
Study Finds 1 Percent of People Responsible for Half of All Aviation Emissions
A new study published in the Global Environmental Change journal found that aviation emissions are heavily concentrated among a tiny sliver of the population. In 2018, only around 11 percent of people traveled by air, with no more than 4 percent doing so internationally. The most frequent travelers—no more than 1 percent of global population—are responsible for an estimated 50 percent of all aviation emissions. Individuals using private air travel—a relatively tiny number of extremely wealthy individuals—may be responsible for up to 7,500 tons of CO2 annually. Additionally, the study found that because large segments of aviation emissions are not covered by policy agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement, wealthy countries with higher numbers of frequent travelers should consider travel disparities in their internal emission mitigation efforts.
States Take Divergent Paths on Abortion Access
Republican state lawmakers in Arkansas have filed legislation that, if enacted, would amount to a total abortion ban in that state—a move they have explicitly said is meant to trigger a court challenge that could ultimately give the Supreme Court an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. Multiple states have attempted to enact restrictions over the last several years, but with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a longtime champion of reproductive rights—the ideological balance of the Court has changed. Anti-choice activists hope that Ginsburg’s replacement, the more conservative Amy Coney Barrett, will provide the decisive vote in striking down Roe.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts has become the latest state to enact affirmative protections for abortion, with the state legislature overriding a veto from Governor Charlie Baker to pass the ROE Act, which will allow abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of a fatal fetal anomaly and in instances when a physician deems it necessary “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” It also lowers the age at which teens can seek an abortion without permission from a parent or a judge from 18 to 16.
Teen Pregnancy Costs Latin America Billions Each Year
A new United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study of six Latin American countries indicates that the region’s high teenage pregnancy rate exacts an enormous economic cost—an average of more than $1.2 billion per country each year. The research takes into account not only direct health care expenditures, but also the loss of earnings due to reduced educational attainment and lower labor market participation. The study found that those who gave birth during adolescence were three times less likely to obtain a university degree than those who did not, earned 24 percent less in annual income, and were more likely to experience unemployment and chronic poverty. Researchers further found that preventing adolescent pregnancies could reduce government spending on welfare programs by between 60 and 72 percent.
South Korea’s Population Declines for the First Time
For the first time in the country’s recorded history, the population of South Korea has declined from one year to the next. Census data found that on December 31, 2020, there were 51,829,023 people in the country, down 20,838 from the same date a year earlier. Births decreased by 10.65 percent over that period, while deaths were up by 3.1 percent. The total fertility rate stands at 0.9 births per woman, well short of the replacement rate of 2.1. Forecasters expect it to fall further.
Demographers in South Korea have long warned of the economic and social consequences of an aging population with too few younger workers to support older retirees. The South Korean government has sought to counter the declining birth rate in recent years by offering incentives to couples to have more children, but the initiatives have seen little success.
Multiple trends have combined to make larger families unattractive, including challenging economic conditions for young adults and a still-patriarchal culture that disproportionately saddles women with the burdens of childrearing. In a sign of how deeply entrenched these norms are, suggestions posted to a government website in 2019 encouraged pregnant women to plan ahead for their husbands’ comfort after the new arrival by making sure there were meals on hand, since husbands are “not good at cooking.” It also suggested that hanging a dress in a small size somewhere visible would encourage new mothers to quickly lose their baby weight. Several of the suggestions were removed following public outcry.
Poland Enacts Near Total Ban on Abortion
In late January, after months of public protests and calls for repeal, Poland enacted a law passed in October 2020 banning abortion in cases of fetal abnormality. The country already had one of the most restrictive laws in Europe, and the new measure means that rape, incest, and life endangerment are now the only permissible reasons for abortion. Only 1,100 legal terminations were performed in 2020, virtually all due to fetal malformations, though women’s rights groups have estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 Polish women seek abortions abroad every year. The ruling Law and Justice Party, which has drawn international criticism for its increasingly autocratic behavior, has championed the law as in keeping with “traditional values,” despite the fact that public opinion polls show majorities opposed additional restrictions.
In Major Step Forward, Argentina Legalizes Abortion
In December, Argentina became the largest country in Latin America to permit abortion when its legislature voted to legalize the procedure. Abortion will now be free in public hospitals and available for any reason through the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Later procedures are still subject to some restrictions. Additionally, in late January, the government announced it would drop criminal charges against those accused of having abortions prior to the passage of the new law.
Only three other countries in Latin America—Cuba, Guyana, and Uruguay—allow abortion without restrictions during the early weeks of pregnancy, though the procedure remains common throughout the region. Researchers say that hundreds of thousands of clandestine abortions have taken place every year in Argentina alone, and the country’s Health Ministry says that in 2016—the most recent year for which data are available—around 40,000 women were hospitalized for complications from unsafe abortions. The Access to Safe Abortion Network, an Argentinian activist group, says that at least 65 women died of unsafe abortions between 2016 and 2018.