Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to ScienceMag, the issue of Climate Change is now so urgent that all available options should be considered to reduce population growth in fast growing regions like Sub-saharan Africa.
Global warming policy: Is population left out in the cold?
John Bongaarts 1, Brian C. O’Neill 2,3
1 Population Council, New York, NY, USA.
2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA.
3 University of Denver, Denver, CO, USA.
Science 17 Aug 2018:=
Vol. 361, Issue 6403, pp. 650-652
Would slowing human population growth lessen future impacts of anthropogenic climate change? With an additional 4 billion people expected on the planet by 2100, the answer seems an obvious “yes.” Indeed, substantial scientific literature backs up this intuition. Many nongovernmental organizations undertake climate- and population-related activities, and national adaptation plans for most of the least-developed countries recognize population growth as an important component of vulnerability to climate impacts (1). But despite this evidence, much of the climate community, notably the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the primary source of scientific information for the international climate change policy process, is largely silent about the potential for population policy to reduce risks from global warming. Though the latest IPCC report (2) includes an assessment of technical aspects of ways in which population and climate change influence each other, the assessment does not extend to population policy as part of a wide range of potential adaptation and mitigation responses. We suggest that four misperceptions by many in the climate change community play a substantial role in neglect of this topic, and propose remedies for the IPCC as it prepares for the sixth cycle of its multiyear assessment process.
Over the past decade, two unexpected developments have led to renewed concern about future population growth, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Fortunately, AIDS mortality has dropped sharply as treatment has become more accessible worldwide. In addition, and contrary to expectations, birth rates across sub-Saharan Africa have remained high, and declines in birth rates have stalled in several countries. As a result, the latest UN world population projection is the highest ever, expecting 11.2 billion in 2100, a nearly 4 billion rise from 2015 (4). Much of this rise is projected in sub-Saharan Africa (from 1 billion in 2015 to 4 billion in 2100), but Asia (excluding East Asia) and Latin America are also projected to grow substantially.
Rapid population growth is one of the key drivers of emissions and one of the determinants of vulnerability to impacts; it therefore should be considered as a potential climate policy lever. A key first step in remedying the current neglect of the issue is for the IPCC to include population policy in its assessment of the literature on mitigation and adaptation options. Although the outline for the sixth IPCC assessment report has already been agreed upon (with no explicit mention of population policy), there is ample opportunity within its structure to assess literature on population policy as a component of mitigation or adaptation responses, as well as its costs and benefits, implementation barriers, and links to SDGs (see supplementary materials). The IPCC should also consider the inclusion of more social scientists experienced in reproductive health and population policy.
Beyond the IPCC, the climate and environmental communities and international development institutions should embrace scientifically sound analyses of population policy and human rights–based reproductive health programs. Other international environmental assessments (11, 15) have done somewhat better than the IPCC in covering this topic. Given the urgency of addressing climate change, all available options, especially those that have multiple benefits for sustainable development, should be assessed by experts and considered by governments.
This all seems awfully familiar – scientists promoting the view that scale adjustments to global population are desperately required to save the world from a catastrophe which is predicted by their models.