How Will Population Affect Climate Change?March 4, 2008 By Wilson Center StaffIn “An End to One-Child Families in China?,” a recent post on his blog, Dot Earth, New York Times science reporter Andrew Revkin comments on reports that China is considering ending its one-child policy. But a few of Revkin’s assumptions about population and its relationship to climate change are a tad oversimplified:
1. Revkin writes, “Demographers I consulted today said this [relaxing of the one-child policy] could overturn predictions of an imminent end to global population growth.”
Who’s predicting an imminent end to population growth? The latest UN mid-range projections predict the global population will continue to grow over the next several decades—to 9.2 billion by 2050. Furthermore, even without China abandoning its one-child policy, many already consider the UN mid-range projections optimistically low, since they assume that funding for family planning will continue to increase and the total fertility rate will continue to fall (neither of which is guaranteed). If fertility rates remain the same as they are today, the world population will be 11.9 billion in 2050.
2. Revkin also writes, “Urbanization is likely to help [reduce human impact on the environment] more than hurt.”
But according to Brian O’Neill, a scientist who studies the relationships between demographic variables and climate change at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Institute for the Study of Society and Environment, preliminary projections of future urbanization in China show higher levels of urbanization correlating with an increase, not a decrease, in carbon emissions. (For more on O’Neill’s findings, click here.) 2008 will mark the first time in history more people have lived in urban areas than in rural ones, and the UN Population Division estimates that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will reside in cities. Given that the vast majority of future population growth—including urban population growth—will be in developing countries, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly design in developing country cities will be crucial in the coming decades.