Leading figures from science and environmentalism have backed a call for population restraint policies to be adopted by every state worldwide as part of the battle against climate change.
The Optimum Population Trust says today (August 17, 2009) that the climate change talks which will culminate at Copenhagen in December must ensure that all countries adopt non-coercive policies to limit and stabilise population growth. Family planning programmes in poorer countries should be treated as “legitimate candidates for climate change funding”. Empowering women to control their own fertility would also have major humanitarian benefits for the poorest women and children in the world.
Successful population policies, which answered the unmet need for family planning, could mean nearly three billion fewer people in 2050, a difference equivalent to 44 per cent of current world population (6.8 billion), OPT says. “All environmental problems, and notably those arising from climate change, would be easier to solve with a smaller future population.”
Figures endorsing the statement include broadcaster and film-maker Sir David Attenborough; Professor Paul Ehrlich, author of the 1960s classic The Population Bomb; Gaia scientist James Lovelock; Jonathon Porritt, chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission until last month and a former director of Friends of the Earth; and Professor Chris Rapley, formerly head of the British Antarctic Survey.*
Roger Martin, chair of OPT, said: “The fact that such eminent individuals, several of them OPT patrons, have personally endorsed our statement should act as a wake-up call to those involved in the Copenhagen process. At the very least it should spur negotiators to start taking population growth seriously as a major driver of climate change. There’s not much point in labouring mightily to cut our carbon emissions if hard-won improvements are then routinely drowned out by rising numbers of people.”
OPT wants to see the principle of “contraction and convergence” – in which rich and poor countries converge towards a per person emissions target - adopted as the basis for agreement. However, it says carbon allowances must be allocated to states based on their population size at a specific date. “This would encourage the adoption of population restraint policies; whereas allocation on a simple per person criterion would encourage continued population growth, thus continuously reducing every person’s carbon entitlement.”
Mr. Martin pointed to a recent study** by Oregon State University, which claimed that in the US each child adds about 9,441 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, equivalent to 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. The study concluded: “A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with [their] day-to-day activities when assessing [their] ultimate impact on the global environment.”
Recent research by OPT also estimated that each Briton “forgone” – each addition to the population that does not take place – saves 744 tonnes of CO2, equivalent in emissions to 620 return flights from London to New York (1.2 tonnes of CO2 each).***
Mr. Martin added: “Progress on climate change is being seriously hampered by the widespread refusal to acknowledge the link between total greenhouse emissions and the sheer numbers of emitters. It’s time we abandoned this crazy taboo. Population growth is not a ‘given’ to be fatalistically accommodated but a major factor that requires tackling along with all the other factors that have so far monopolised the debate."