Demographics and Climate Change

floodScientific and popular debate about the causes of climate change and strategies to mitigate its effects has been relatively silent on the subject of demographics. Difficulties in attributing environmental outcomes, including climate change, and the apparent different directions of various demographic effects (e.g., aging decreases emissions; urbanization increases them) no doubt have encouraged researchers to focus on other factors that more directly and consistently affect climate.

At least three demographic trends are relevant to climate change:
(1) age structure transitions and attendant changes in consumption patterns, a relevant development for both industrialized countries as well as many populous emerging markets which by mid century will have age structures resembling those of the developed world;
(2) population movement and increases in consumption associated with urban residence; and (3) in-place population growth, a driver of greenhouse gas emissions. New research suggests population growth in both developed and developing nations is expected to play a very important role in global greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions; what the policy implications for this may be are perhaps a bit less clear.

Demographics and Climate Change was the focus of our June 23 2009 lecture, The Human Footprint on Climate, by CGD senior fellow David Wheeler. For current information on lecture dates, times and locations, and to RSVP, see the Lecture Series Overview.