Future Emissions Key Drivers: Generally

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Comprehensive modeling analysis performed by the IPCC identifies population growth, economic growth, technological change, and patterns of energy and land use as the major driving forces of climate change.

The global population is currently growing at a rate of 80 million people per year, and the population in 2050 is projected to reach 9.1 billion. Most of this growth will occur in developing nations. Wealthier, developed nations have lower, and in some cases, negative fertility rates. The precise relationship of population growth and global GHG emissions is complex. Studies generally uphold the notion that population growth induces increased GHG emissions, but that patterns of development and consumer behavior influence the relationship of population growth and GHG emissions to a higher degree. Analyzing development and consumer patterns is a key issue in this field.

The relationship of economic growth and GHG emissions is also not one-dimensional: economic growth can cause increases (e.g. increased demand for energy supply) and decreases (e.g. dissemination of low-carbon technologies) in per capita emissions. The Environmental Kuznet’s Curve (EKC) is often used to capture this relationship. The EKC is graphically represented by an inverted U-shaped relationship between GDP per capita and pollution, where in the early stages of development, the GDP growth and emissions per capita move together. Once a certain point of growth is reached in the economy, the relationship inverts, and per capita pollution decreases. Economic literature does not fully support the EKC hypothesis, but it does not disqualify it either. Most studies find that GDP per capita and emissions per capita move in tandem (Schmalensee et al., 1998), but that there is significant flexibility in the coefficient of CO2 emissions per capita growth. Disaggregating economic factors, such as sector-specific changes, is a key issue in current studies.