Speech – Climate Change and the Story of Sarah

By on maj 24, 2013 in Blog, English, Speeches | 0 comments

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I wrote this speech for Martin Lidegaard, Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Building to be delivered at the First Global Conference on Contraception, Reproductive and Sexual Health in Copenhagen May 22, 2013. It won two Cicero Speechwriting Awards 2014 in categories Government and Environment/Energy/Sustainability and was published in Vital Speeches International June 2013.

Should you be interested in reading more about the making of this speech, the Cicero Award or it afterlife, please follow this link to more entries.


Climate Change and the Story of Sarah

Your Royal Highness, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for having me.

You might ask why the Minister of Climate, Energy and Building is here at your conference. Let me be quite frank. I am here for two reasons:

To work with climate change is to worry about our children’s future. To work with reproductive health is to worry about our children’s future. Let us work together.

The world is growing. As you’ll know, in 2050 we will reach 9 billion people on this planet and it will be 10 billion in 2100. 10 billion people: Using resources, emitting CO2 and increasing global warming. As health professionals you have a vital part to play when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, family planning and contraception. When we fight climate change we tend to focus on the next ten years. That is when our global emissions of CO2 will have to peak if we are to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius and limit the most devastating consequences.

But climate change is not done after ten years. We still have a task to perform and here family planning is essential in reaching our climate targets, just as it is for woman rights and for development. The importance of your work in this field cannot be overestimated. And I want to thank you for your contribution!

It is one thing to give poor women a choice. But I will argue that the challenge lies less with the 10 billion people and more with the growing middle class: People like ourselves. In the last decades, the global middle class has grown 1 billion. It is a tremendous success: We have taken 1 billion people out of absolute poverty! As a result, commodity prices have increased significantly since the turn of the century. We have not been able to reduce poverty and increase health in a sustainable way. The most important indicator of this is global warming.

The next 25 years the global middle class will grow another 3 billion people worldwide. That is 3 billion people who will get their first car, buy their first house and eat their first steak. That is good for their health but it is bad for our common climate. A growing middle class means a growing consumption of energy and a growing emission of greenhouse gasses.

My message is that when more people—uses more things—it causes more climate change. And more climate change—means more health problems—for more people. Climate change is probably the largest health threat of our generation! And that is why we need You onboard!

Let us say that a woman has just gotten pregnant. We will call her Sarah.

Sarah will bring her child into a warmer world and not in a good way. When global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius, twice as many people will die from heat strokes. And WHO estimates that 140.000 people already die from global warming every year by ills such as diarrhoea, malnutrition, malaria and dengue fever. By 2030 malaria will increase from 300 million to affect 470 million people every year. By 2080 dengue fever will affect an additional 2 billion people. Pregnant women are the most exposed. Sarah lives within 60 kilometers of the sea along with more than half of the world’s population.

For every one drought in the past, there will be 10 to 30 in the future.  In some African countries less rain means only half the crops by 2020. Sarah runs a risk of malnutrition, anaemia or lack of iron which kills as much as one-in-five women during child birth. In Lima, the Capital of Peru, the people will have to make do with half of their normal supply of water because the glaciers melt. On a global scale more than 1 billion people lack access to clean water already.

As the warmer weather makes the drought last longer, Sarah will have to walk further to find clean water. 90% of diarrhoea is due to dirty water and bad sanitation. She won’t have time for school and so she won’t learn when to go see a doctor. She might wait until it is too late. Eclampsia is responsible for 16 % of mothers dying during child labour and it doubles the risk of children dying in the womb.

After the drought comes the flood. The risk of coastal flooding will increase ten-fold for Sarah. For all these reasons Sarah could easily end up in the slums on the city outskirts. She is poor—and so are the conditions which will affect her reproductive health and general wellbeing. And make her even more vulnerable to global warming.

That is the story of Sarah and Climate Change.

Obviously, human reproduction influences the challenge of climate change. And you have a central part to play. But as the story of Sarah shows, a global rise in temperatures is the single largest threat against human reproductive health. And here, your role is even greater.

And even more importantly:

My brother is a doctor and he is here today. I know the authority doctors have and I wish—as a politician— I had it too. We could use some of that authority when negotiating in the UN, when talking to industry or when convincing the public. As a Danish politician it is hard for me to understand why it has to be so difficult.

And we will do it with electricity prices—excluding tax—below the European average, with economic growth and support from the business community, with steady job creation and care for our planet.

We see the symptoms every day, we know the cure by heart and we have the medicine at hand. As doctors, you are everywhere and people listen when you speak. People respect what you say and sometimes they even do what you tell them to.

I urge you. Let us battle climate change together. Please. Ask people to cut down on fossil fuels. Let it be “what the doctor ordered”!

Thank you.


You might be interested in reading about the reception of the Cicero Award for the speech or about the following social media sharing.