Study shatters myth that population growth is a major driver of climate change

dr_david_satterthwaiteThere is at most a weak link between population growth and rising emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, says a study published last Tuesday in the journal Environment and Urbanization.


The paper contradicts growing calls for population growth to be limited as part of the fight against climate change and shows that the real issue is not the growth in the number of people but the growth in the number of consumers and their consumption levels.

Dr David Satterthwaite (pictured) of the International Institute for Environment and Development analysed changes in population and in greenhouse gas emissions for all the worlds countries and found that between 1980 and 2005:

Sub-Saharan Africa had 18.5% of the worlds population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions The United States had 3.4% of the worlds population growth and 12.6% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

China had 15.3% of the worlds population growth and 44.5% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions. Population growth rates in China have come down very rapidly but greenhouse gas emissions have increased very rapidly.

Low-income nations had 52.1% of the worlds population growth and 12.8% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

High-income nations had 7% of the worlds population growth and 29% of the growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

Most of the nations with the highest population growth rates had low growth rates for carbon dioxide emissions while many of the nations with the lowest population growth rates had high growth rates for carbon dioxide emissions.

Satterthwaite points out that contraception and sexual/reproductive health services are key contributors to development, health and human rights in poorer nations and communities.

But he adds that these are not a solution to climate change which is caused predominantly by a minority of the worlds population that has the highest levels of consumption.

A child borne into a very poor African household who during their life never escapes from poverty contributes very little to climate change, especially if they die young, as many do, says Satterthwaite.

A child born into a wealthy household in North America or Europe and enjoys a full life and a high-consumption lifestyle contributes far more thousands or even tens of thousands of times more.

Of course, not all the worlds greatest consumers are in high income countries, adds Satterthwaite.

The many millionaires from Mexico, China or South Africa may have just as large and damaging a carbon footprint as millionaires from Europe or North America. But, globally, most of the worlds high-consumers are in Europe and North America.

Post published in: Opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *