Is population growth fueling climate change? It’s not that simple, experts say

The 8 billionth person in the world was born on Tuesday.

This according to a United Nations projectionwhich designated November 15, 2022 as the Day of 8 billion to mark this milestone.

At the same time, the world is getting warmer. The Earth has warmed by almost 0.9 degrees Celsius since we reached the 4 billion people mark in 1974.

Climate change and population displacement might seem like two issues that are strongly linked, and they are, but not as closely as one might think, experts say.

While more and more people are consuming energy, mainly from burning fossil fuels, and are warming the planet, the key issue is not the number of people. That’s how a small fraction of those people are causing a lot more than theirs share of carbon emissionssay several climate and population experts.

“We have a population problem and we have a population problem,” says Vanessa Perez-Cicera, director of the Global Economics Center at the World Resources Institute.

“But I think the most important thing is that we have a overconsumption issue.”

Because of this, the 8 billionth child born “won’t have what we had…because there aren’t enough resources,” he says.

Do more populous regions emit more carbon dioxide?

Although climate change can often be linked to population growth, it does not necessarily follow that one is caused by the other.

And regions that have more people don’t necessarily emit more carbon.

Take Kenya, which is currently suffering a devastating drought. It has 55 million people, about 95 times the population of Wyoming in the United States. But Wyoming emits 3.7 times the amount of carbon dioxide of Kenya.

Africa as a whole has 16.7% of the world’s population, but historically emits only 3% of global carbon pollution. The United States, however, has 4.5 percent of the planet’s population, but has emitted 21.5 percent of heat-trapping carbon dioxide since 1959, according to data from the Global Carbon Project.

Looking at countries’ emissions between 1959 and 2020, the US, not China, is the largest carbon polluter.

“The question isn’t about population, but rather about patterns of consumption,” said climate scientist Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.

“So it’s best to look at the major northern emitters to start with.”

How does world population affect climate change?

Climate Interactive, a group of scientists who manage intricate computer simulations which can be optimized to see which factors matter most in tackling climate change, by looking at the difference population makes.

He found that the number of people made a small contribution compared to other factors, such as the economy.

Comparing two scenarios of UN population projections of 8.8 billion people and 10.4 billion people, Climate Interactive’s Drew Jones found only a difference of 0.2 degrees Celsius.

But the difference between the No carbon price or tax, compared to $100 (€96) a ton, it was 0.7 degrees Celsius.

Hare says there’s more than a tinge of racism to the myth that overpopulation it is the main problem behind climate change.

“One of the biggest arguments I hear, almost exclusively from men in high-income countries, is that, ‘Oh, it’s just a population issue,'” said Katharine Hayhoe, lead scientist at the Nature Conservancy.

“Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“The poorest 50 percent of the world’s people are historically responsible for 7 percent of heat-trapping gas emissions,” said Hayhoe.

“And yet, when you look at which countries are bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate changecountries like Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, Afghanistan, are at the top of the list.”

And even within countries, it’s the richest who cause the most carbon pollution, Hare adds.

“[Overall] 80 percent of the population, the world’s population, emits a small fraction of emissions.

Which areas of the world are growing the fastest?

The world’s population is growing mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia “and they contribute the least man-made climate change”, said Colette Rose, project coordinator at the Institute for Population and Development in Berlin.

Eight nations, five in Africa and three in Asia, will have at least half demographic growth between now and 2050, according to Rose.

These are Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.

World population growth has slowed markedly, is likely to peak this century, and is now down to less than 1% a year.

But carbon emissions they are growing faster, 1% more this year than in 2021.

Key issue of loss and damage at COP27

Instead of population growth, perhaps a more salient issue is the wealth imbalance between the North and the South of the world.

This was a key issue at this year’s COP27 United Nations climate change conference in Egypt.

Developing countries have applied for specific funding, known as losses and damages – to deal with the disasters that the high emissions of developed countries are causing.

On Monday, Germany and other G7 countries, together with the V20 group of vulnerable countries, unveiled plans to launch a “Global Shieldagainst climate risks.

It aims to rapidly provide pre-arranged insurance and disaster protection funding after events such as floods, droughts and hurricanes have struck. Pakistan, Ghana and Bangladesh will be among the first countries to receive funding.

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