In case you think I’ve just gone soft on the IPCC in every respect, let me just tell you that it’s as pathetic on the link between population and accelerating climate change as almost every other international agency in the world today.

Addressing population growth is not included in the IPCC’s proposed mitigation strategy, despite its acknowledgement that “economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion”.

In that regard, it completely ignores a whole body of research showing how further reductions in population growth rates would help mitigate the seemingly inexorable rise in emissions. A 2010 study of energy use and population concluded that slowing global population growth “could provide between 16 and 29% of the emissions reductions suggested to be necessary by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change”*.

My colleagues at Population Matters rather wearily found themselves having to spell it out – yet again – for those who just can’t find this socking great piece of the overall climate change jigsaw:

“Policies to lower the birthrate are proven, inexpensive and generally welcome. Fully funding family planning services, improving women’s access to education and employment, better sex education, and promoting smaller families, would not only reduce fertility rates but would also strengthen human rights, alleviate poverty, and reduce pressure on limited resources.

Additionally, reducing population growth relieves the pressure pushing communities to live in areas more vulnerable to climate change impacts such as coastal areas or areas prone to drought. More stable communities are also more resilient, being less affected by food insecurity and water scarcity.

Simply put, if we’re serious about avoiding the worst effects of climate change, there should be no unwanted pregnancies, and sub-replacement fertility rates should be something to aim for rather than fear. Without tackling population growth, we are facing unrealistic expectations on unproven and expensive technologies with uncertain side effects in our efforts to reduce climate change.”

So much for the Fifth Assessment Report. The Sixth Assessment Report probably won’t be out much before the end of the decade. So I just wonder if they’ll get it by then?!


*Global Demographic Trends and Future Carbon Emissions, Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of the USA, October 2010