EU population growth driving carbon emissions

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January 28th 2014

Total EU carbon emissions clearly are the average emissions per person multiplied by the number of people. Thus population trends are a key factor in determining climate policy one that is being widely ignored. A research study by London School of Economics graduate student Mengran Gao, sponsored by Population Matters, puts some numbers on the implications.

The UN's high variant population projection for the EU by 2050 is 575 million, and the low variant is 453 million. At the high end, this growth from the current population of slightly more than 500 million would produce some 15 billion tonnes of additional carbon each year, based on the 2010 per capita emissions rate, and would require more than 300,000 additional wind-turbine equivalents simply to hold emissions constant.

The EU accounts for 11 per cent of global emissions. It a number of years ago committed to reducing carbon emissions to 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050, though by 2011 emissions were only 18 per cent lower than they had been.

The low variant population projection of 453 million would clearly make the emissions reduction target much easier to achieve, thus helping to slow climate change. While each EU resident's sustainable carbon 'allowance' in 2050 would be 2.5 tonnes per year, compared with 2.0 tonnes per year with the high variant. At such low tonnages, this would make a significant difference to future European living standards.

Roger Martin, chair of Population Matters, commented: "Reducing and reversing human population growth is essential because human resource consumption and pollution are already more than the Earth can sustain. This study highlights that population size is not just an issue for developing countries. Wealthy areas like the EU face their own environmental challenges and have a duty to their own citizens, as well as to other countries and future generations, to reduce and reverse their own population growth."

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