Future Emissions Key Drivers: Global Population Growth

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The IPCC identifies population growth as a major driving force of climate change. However, because there are large variations in consumption levels between individuals in developed and developing nations, it is more accurate to state that global consumption growth is related positively to greenhouse gasses. Growth in the number of consumers and the GHG emissions implications of their consumption determine this relationship.

The global population currently grows at a rate of approximately 80 million people per year. The population in 2050 is projected to reach 9.1 billion, with most of this growth occurring in developing countries. The contribution of low-income, and high-fertility countries to global GHG levels has been marginal to date, but is growing as a result of economic development and growing per capita wealth.

Patterns of future development and consumer behavior in countries that are rapidly developing will determine the trajectory of population growth and GHG emissions. Analyzing development and consumer patterns is a key issue in this field.

Incorporating more detailed data on population growth is another issue in this field. Modeling analyses performed by the IPCC shows general correlations between population size and emissions scenarios, but other variables, such as the level of urbanization and household size, have only recently been incorporated into models.