28 February 2022

Population and climate change

Population and climate change — full report (PDF)

by Ian Lowe, Jane O’Sullivan and Peter Cook

Climate change is one of the greatest self-inflicted threats that human civilisation has ever faced. An unprecedented global effort is under way to change course to avert catastrophic outcomes – but doubts remain whether enough is being done, and quickly enough.  In the flurry of activity and proposals, the role of human population size and growth is virtually ignored or actively rejected. This paper fills this gap with an in-depth review of the evidence. It explores questions such as:

  • How is population a key driver of climate change?
  • How has population growth contributed to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions?
  • What are the implications of population growth for climate change mitigation and adaptation in poorer countries, compared to the more affluent countries?
  • How does the greenhouse gas impact of having fewer children compare with other climate-friendly actions such as eating less meat or avoiding air travel?
  • How can population policy be used as part of the actions to avoid catastrophic climate change?
  • How will climate change affect the health, safety and growth of populations?
  • Why has population been so often ignored in the policy prescriptions for combatting climate change?

This paper includes unique insights by lead author Ian Lowe, who has been deeply involved in climate policy and research in Australia from its very beginning in the 1980s.

Population and climate change — full report (PDF)