Policy ForumClimate Change

Global warming policy: Is population left out in the cold?

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Science  17 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6403, pp. 650-652
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8680

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Summary

Would slowing human population growth lessen future impacts of anthropogenic climate change? With an additional 4 billion people expected on the planet by 2100, the answer seems an obvious “yes.” Indeed, substantial scientific literature backs up this intuition. Many nongovernmental organizations undertake climate- and population-related activities, and national adaptation plans for most of the least-developed countries recognize population growth as an important component of vulnerability to climate impacts (1). But despite this evidence, much of the climate community, notably the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the primary source of scientific information for the international climate change policy process, is largely silent about the potential for population policy to reduce risks from global warming. Though the latest IPCC report (2) includes an assessment of technical aspects of ways in which population and climate change influence each other, the assessment does not extend to population policy as part of a wide range of potential adaptation and mitigation responses. We suggest that four misperceptions by many in the climate change community play a substantial role in neglect of this topic, and propose remedies for the IPCC as it prepares for the sixth cycle of its multiyear assessment process.