News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate Change and Population

Climate Change and Population

Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) is to be congratulated on its submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change in Bonn. Here are extracts from the submission – URL at the end of the article.

1. Population growth is a major driver of growth in GHG emissions.
2. Between 1970 and the present global population growth and global growth in GHG emissions have moved in virtual lock step.
3. It is axiomatic that humanity’s impact on the natural environment is a product of the population size and average per capita impact.
4. There are many indicators that human impact has exceeded Nature’s capacity, excessive GHG emissions leading to dangerous climate change being only one such indicator
5. Population size and growth is an important climate change consideration in every country. In countries like Australia with very large per capita emissions any increase in population adds more to emissions than adding a person just about anywhere else. In countries like China with very large populations any increase in per capita emissions is important because of the very large population.
6. Australia’s present population growth is 1.8% and our GHG emissions growth is 2% indicating that 85% of the increase in emissions is due to population growth.
7. Further population growth makes tackling any of our environmental problems harder.
8. Further population growth makes maintaining intranational and international peace and stability more difficult and makes more difficult the achievement of agreed conditions for reducing GHG emissions and other environmental threats.
9. UN population projections indicate a 50% increase in global population. Thus even if average global per capita emissions were cut by 30%, total emissions would remain unchanged.
10. Forty one per cent of all pregnancies across the globe are unwanted.
11. Reducing this number and ensuring that every child born is a wanted child is the fastest and most effective way of reducing human environmental impact including GHG emissions.
12. Other UN agencies have identified the critical role of population in worsening environmental damage. The UNFCCC must take this on board and integrate the urgent need for population limitation into it recommendations.


Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) is a national not-for-profit non-government organisation that is concerned about the deleterious environmental consequences of both national and global population growth. It has no political affiliations.

Our principal concern relating to UNFCCC is that human population growth is increasing demand for fossil fuel energy, with resultant increased carbon emissions. Our organisation wishes to provide a voice on the UNFCCC observer list for this largely denied or ignored crucial driver of increasing carbon emissions and consequent climate change.

Climate change is but one symptom among many which indicate that humanity is presently living unsustainably. The drivers of this unsustainability were eloquently and repeatedly identified in many chapters of the United Nations Global Environment Outlook Report 4

Any discussion, debate or consequent action by UNFCCC is destined to fail if world population growth is not an integral part. While increasing the efficiency of energy use and/or developing more sources of alternative energy are very necessary parts of a sustainable energy future these improvements by themselves are destined to be repeatedly offset by population increase unless human population is stabilised. In short, in a finite natural world supply options are finite. Demand must be limited by tackling both population size and per capita demand.

We recognize that religious and cultural objections are sometimes raised to any suggestion to limit human numbers. However, as the UN GEO Report 4 mentioned opposite makes clear, any dispassionate examination of the scale of the present human environmental predicament shows that population size and growth is unsustainable and cannot be ignored.

Without action, worst-case scenarios are almost certainly inevitable. Business as usual with essentially unfettered population growth, is no longer an option. It is for these reasons that we ask that this crucial and unavoidable issue be included on the UNFCCC agenda. This will bring UNFCCC into a cooperative relationship with other UN agencies that work to limit population growth as quickly and humanely as possible. While many of these bodies work for humanitarian reasons, these reasons are complementary to the very valid environmental reasons for limiting population.


 We call on UNFCCC to ensure that

• the Copenhagen conference acknowledges the importance of population as a key driver of climate change and places the issue high on the agenda

• in addition to the critical themes as outlined by Mr Y de Boer in Bali, a new critical theme of GHG management be created, headed:
‘Views relating to global and regional population growth, and its impact on fossil fuel demand, carbon emissions and deforestation’, shortened to, “Population”, for ease of reference.

• the Copenhagen Protocol explicitly endorses the established scientific and mathematical links between population numbers, growth and carbon emissions, and therefore climate change

• the Copenhagen Protocol states unequivocally the connection between humanely reducing human numbers and GHG emission mitigation

• the Copenhagen Protocol makes recommendations as a matter of urgency, regarding the education of all peoples of the world, particularly through schools and mass advertising campaigns, about the impact of over-population on the environment in general and climate change in particular, and the humane options available to reduce human numbers

• the Copenhagen Protocol makes urgent recommendations about the need for education of women and girls, education of couples on family planning, and on all options available to optimise family planning (perhaps along the lines of Thailand and Iran)

• this conference makes recommendations on the urgent need for public awareness campaigns on the connections between rising population and fossil fuel carbon emissions

• this conference makes recommendations on the urgent need for the provision of universally free – or very cheap and affordable – family planning counselling and support, including the provision of contraceptive and sterilisation services.

   The submission can be read in full at
and search “population