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This is why we need to start taking notice of population effects today, says O'Neill. And it's not only the sheer size of populations that matters to emissions levels. Other aspects, such as rates of ageing and urbanization, are also poorly accounted for in many climate change models, says O'Neill. His team used internationally recognized climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but none of the 40 scenarios they looked at attempted to isolate the effects of population. He is currently working on putting that right, together with colleagues from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria.

The team became interested in the effects of ageing on emissions, making the assumption that as a population ages its economy slows and hence its emissions fall.

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When they looked at future emissions for the United States, taking ageing into account, the results of their models implied that with a relatively high — but realistic — rate of ageing, emissions would be one-third lower by the second half of this century than many standard models predict. This reduction could be even more pronounced in faster-ageing regions such as western Europe and Japan 5.

This might sound like good news for reducing greenhouse gases. But ageing is only one factor in the mix, and other changes can send emissions soaring. Urbanization is one of them, and scenarios in which O'Neill and his colleagues have included this as a factor make depressing reading. In unpublished work presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America last year, they concluded that the effect of people moving from country to town in China could swell emissions up to 40 per cent above what's expected by the middle of the century 6.

Nobody is arguing that population policies provide a 'one-stop shop' for reducing emissions. And their effects are likely to be a lot more complex than the simplistic 'fewer people equals less emissions' view.

But thinking about population provides another way of viewing the problem, a new perspective that we ignore at our peril. The effect it could have on the quintessentially modern issue of climate change is something that's definitely worth looking into further, says O'Neill. If they're not active enough, then we're going to miss out. Connelly, M.

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Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Marland, G. Meyerson, F. Finer, L. Health 38 , 90—96 Dalton, M. Energy Econ. Download references. Reprints and Permissions. Climatic Change Population and Environment Advanced search. Skip to main content. World population is expected to reach 9 billion people by The emissions equation. Figure 1: Per capita global greenhouse gas emissions — Full size image. Population policy has been a sticky topic in climate change discussions, mainly owing to negative associations with China's one-child system and with campaigns of forced sterilization.

References 1 Connelly, M. Google Scholar 2 Marland, G. Article Google Scholar 6 Dalton, M. Article Google Scholar 5 Dalton, M. Author information Affiliations Kerri Smith is a podcast editor and reporter for Nature. Rights and permissions Reprints and Permissions. Further reading Using population projections in climate change analysis Daniel Rozell Climatic Change Policy review: thoughts on addressing population and climate change in a just and ethical manner Suzanne Petroni Population and Environment Download PDF.

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Sign up for Nature Briefing. Review the four graphs and interpret the impact that the one-child policy, that was instituted in , has had on China's population growth. Click here to learn why China is now encouraging its population to have two babies.

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