In his “Dot Earth” blog, the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin reports today from Copenhagen on the absence of any mention of population in the draft agreements that are being discussed at the climate conference. He notes:
If you scan the most recent drafts of the climate agreement that delegates here are trying to complete, you’ll have a hard time finding the word population. I’m quite sure it’s not there. (Please let me know if you find it.) This is politically unsurprising, given how discussions of population growth inflame those fearing control measures, those with religious concerns about contraception and sometimes those seeing underpopulation where others see a problem.
Later in his post, he describes the simple math of climate change and population:
Overall, it’s clear that in a world heading toward +/- 9 billion people seeking decent lives, both numbers and habits matter enormously. In my recent chat with Ed Miliband, the lead British climate official here, I mentioned my piece from awhile ago examining how even a best-case scenario for emissions of carbon dioxide in a world with that many people leads to an enormous buildup of the gas. In that post, I’d picked 10 tons per person per year — Europe’s current emissions level — as the middle ground. Suppose the United States saw emissions drop to 10 and developing countries, with emissions typically 1 to 5 tons a year, rose to that level. You’d have 90 billion tons a year of carbon dioxide produced (emissions are now well over 30 billion tons a year).
With Mr. Miliband, I mused on a world achieving Europe’s planned 2020 target of 6 tons per person per year (which is also where China’s emissions are projected to be around then). At 9 billion people, that’s 54 billion tons a year.
As Revkin and others have made clear, population is far from the only element in the climate change equation–we have to reduce the monstrously over-sized carbon footprint of people living in the U.S. and other developed nations. But if population is omitted altogether from the climate change equation, it’s going to be very difficult–if not impossible–to balance our climate change aspirations with our desires for a more prosperous and just world.
Educating and empowering women in the world and helping them avoid unwanted and unintended pregnancies is, whether or not world leaders choose to mention the “P” word in Copenhagen, a good strategy for helping to achieve what seems increasingly impossible: a climate change agenda that actually works.
Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President