CEPR

December 11, 2014

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460

Washington, D.C.- A new research paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) offers more evidence that slower population growth could significantly reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. The paper, “The Consequences of Increased Population Growth for Climate Change” by economist David Rosnick, finds that that an additional 1 percentage point of population growth through the end of the century would coincide with about an additional 2 degrees Fahrenheit in average global temperatures. “Over time,” the paper concludes, “the temperature change is greater and becomes increasingly sensitive to population growth.”

“There are many warnings of ‘demographic time bombs’ due to population declines in countries like Japan and even China,” Rosnick said. “But lower population growth actually has many economic benefits; one of the most important is that it reduces the rate of global climate change.”

The paper explains that “A larger population requires more farmland, and increased economic activity means greater carbon emissions and more intense climate change.”

The author employs the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM) to estimate the effects of population growth on the change global average temperature by 2100. Observing that a larger population supports a larger economy, which translates in close proportion into additional releases of carbon dioxide (CO2), the paper notes that global temperature should in any year be nearly linear in relation to the rate of growth when the rate of population growth is constant. 

While the author notes that technology or economics (such as reducing work hours) can produce a path of lower emissions, there also appears to be a significant climate benefit to slower population growth.

The paper notes: “There are many positive economic and social policies that can promote this transition to lower birth rates,” including “more security in old age; [t]he education of girls and women and increased economic opportunities for them, as well as affordable contraception and reproductive choice; lower infant and child mortality; [a]nd increased literacy, education levels, and productivity generally.” Moreover, the paper observes that reductions in population growth in high-income countries will have a greater impact on climate change reduction, due to “much higher per capita consumption and greenhouse gas emissions” in those countries. 

“Fears of ‘demographic crises’ from falling population growth rates in richer countries are dangerous, especially considering the implications for climate change,” Rosnick said. “In fact, not only can working-age populations continue to support larger numbers of retirees, but declining population rates are good for the planet as a whole.”

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