Population in climate change challenges | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, December 16, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, December 16, 2009

Population in climate change challenges

CLIMATE change has emerged as a major global issue of common concern to the world community. Climate change is not only an environment issue but also a development issue, and is considered as one of the greatest challenges facing the world population. The world population prospect (2008 Revision of the United Nations Population Division) projected that the population of the world was likely to grow from today's 6.7 billion to 9.15 billion by 2050.
The Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) 2010 by Germanwatch indicates that the countries most affected by extreme weather events, covering 1990 to 2008, are Bangladesh, Myanmar, Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Haiti, India, Dominican Republic, Philippines and China. China, India and Bangladesh are the most populated countries, where population growth is a major concern. Population is growing most rapidly in the developing world, which will expose more people to climate change impacts.
As the COP15 summit is seeking effective strategies to meet climate change challenges, population trends and dynamics should also be considered. It is evident in the studies about economic growth, technological change, and population growth that higher population growth is associated with more GHG.
It can be argued that climate change models possibly undervalue the impact of demographic trends on GHGs emissions growth as only population size is considered but not the compositional changes within the population as it grows. The world population is becoming more urban, and households are getting smaller. These changes have not been truly accounted for in climate change models although energy consumption patterns differ between the rural and urban populations and large versus small households.
Universal access to good quality reproductive healthcare services and meeting the demand of family planning can play an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. But these have not yet been incorporated into comprehensive climate change solutions. Governments and organisations must address the need for reproductive health and family planning following the ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development), Cairo, 1994, where 179 countries agreed to the Program of Action that marked a fundamental shift in the motivation for population related policies by improvement of individual well being.
This will not only improve the health and wellbeing of the population but also slow the growth of GHGs and reduce human vulnerability to climate change impacts. The number of women of reproductive age continues to grow worldwide but there has been a significant decline in funding for family planning programs in international development assistance. This shortfall risks missing a chance to not only improve the lives of people around the world, but also to reduce the environmental consequences of population growth.
In this regard, continuing support of the Cairo program can be regarded as a "win-win" strategy. It should be taken into account that voluntary family planning and reproductive health programs, and investments in education and primary health care tend to lower fertility and slow population growth, reducing GHG emissions in the long run and improving the resistance of vulnerable populations to climate change impacts. The consequences of climate change and demographic change may be substantial in coming decades. Both researchers and policy makers should take into account the linkages between them.
Concern is growing about the impacts of potential changes in the frequency of extreme climate events. More research is needed on how demographic factors affect the vulnerability of populations. Close consideration of differentiated population dynamics and gender inequalities can widen policy options, generate better emissions scenarios and improve identification and targeting of vulnerable populations, which can lead to more effective strategies for mitigating climate change.
Population policies affect fertility, mortality and migration. Climate change raises a range of issues that provide justification for a population policy, which should be part of a broad range of policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and to global environmental change in general.
Distinct population groups and patterns of living clearly impose on the environment in diverse ways. Age structure, household size and spatial distribution, and level of development affect per capita emissions, and must be incorporated into climate change. Countries with high rates of poverty and population growth add relatively little to
greenhouse gases and other irreversible global ecological threats. This is not always taken into consideration -- for instance in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Special Report.
Future population growth in developing nations could accentuate climate change whereas a reduction in growth rates would help mitigate climate change, thereby speeding up poverty reduction and development. In the context of the Copenhagen climate negotiations (COP15), we sincerely hope that the countries will take effective steps associated with population.
Understanding the complex relationship between population and climate change and examining the links between population size and other factors related to mitigation and adaptation should be the top priority in addressing climate change and its consequences. Analysing population dynamics can illuminate who is most vulnerable, why, and how interventions can most effectively reach them.

Mohammad Mainul Islam, PhD. is Assistant Professor, Department of Population Sciences, University of Dhaka. E-mail:mainulbdcn@gmail.com

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