Skip to content

Population v Climate Change

13 December 2009
River in Delhi

Flats back on to a litter-choked river in New Delhi. Photo: David Taylor

Interesting article by Duncan Green, Oxfam’s Head of Policy, in the New Statesman this week.

“People cause climate change, therefore cut the number of people. Right? Not really. A closer look shows that the conventional view is wrong, or at least a gross over-simplification.”

“The population debate matters, especially in these two Copenhagen weeks, because it risks becoming a massive distraction. We need to focus on curbing consumption and emissions, not babies and women’s rights. Otherwise we risk blaming the victims and letting the climate villains off the hook.”

In short, Duncan argues that:

a) Population growth is slowing anyway and will peak in 2050.

b) Carbon footprints are what matter – it’s the few of us in rich countries consuming too much that is the problem, not the billions of poor people emitted very little

c) Population growth should be addressed through women’s rights, access to education and family planning services (contraception and safe abortion facilities).

Duncan as ever talks a lot of sense and he is right in warning that population must not be a distraction from the cut in emissions that need to be agreed this week in Copenhagen.

However, a concern would be around India & China’s growing middle classes, who are acquiring Western-style consumption patterns as they aspire to and reach standards of living similar to us. Of course, in development terms, we want to see a country develop, people lifted out of poverty and their working and middle classes grow. But at the moment, the carbon footprint of a person in India or China is small in comparison with a citizen of the US or EU. What happens when India & China attains billions of middle classes with similar consumption patterns to us? Does that not make limiting population vital to our efforts to stop climate change?

The answer is probably more about curbing consumption and emissions than it is about limiting population. We need to lead by example and show it is possible to have a high standard of living without excessive consumption and cut our own emissions, whilst also helping India, China and other developing countries make their own transition to a low carbon economy (through technology transfer etc).

That said, if the Chinese and Indian governments addressed population growth through an approach that strengthened women’s rights, access to education & family planning based, would that not benefit everyone in India and China, and help the planet?

What do you think?

by David Taylor, Labour Campaign for International Development

One Comment leave one →
  1. Susan Nash permalink
    20 December 2009 17:29

    Couldnt agree more, was on a train in Copenhagen when a Danish delegate at the conference kept trying to tell me it was all about population control.

    It’s those distractions and unhelpful ommissions of our responsibilities to carbon reduction right here in the developed countries, which undoubtedly held up progress last week.

    Lets hope over the coming months more people start focusing on the way in which we live, not the numbers living, and we just may get some progress towards a brighter, more just future

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s