Each month we can add another couple of phenomena that only serve to increase climate change, further warming our planet. The next in that long list is population growth, specifically in urbanized areas, and minimizing that growth could dramatically help curb emissions.
A new research paper published in the latest edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looks at how changes in population growth and the composition of populations could have significant effects over the next 40 years on the amount of carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere.
The international team of scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration found that if humanity’s population grew along a slow growth path over the next forty years, it could account for 16 to 29 percent of the reduction in carbon emissions thought necessary to keep global temperatures from passing a catastrophic tipping point.
“If global population growth slows down, it is not going to solve the climate problem, but it can make a contribution, especially in the long term,” says the study’s lead author, Brian O’Neill, an NCAR scientist.
The flipside of population growth over the next forty years is that larger growth spurts in an urbanized population could lead to as much as a 25 percent rise in carbon emissions.
On the other hand, the makeup of populations will have as serious an impact as the pure numbers of that population. Aging can reduce emissions by up to 20 percent in some industrialized countries because older populations are associated with less work and thus less economic growth.
“Demography will matter to greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years,” says O’Neill. “Urbanization will be particularly important in many developing countries, especially China and India, and aging will be important in industrialized countries.”