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P OLICY FORUM

CLIMATE CHANGE characteristics of climate response options:
benefits to both mitigation and adaptation,

Global warming policy: Is co-benefits with human well-being and
other environmental issues, synergies with
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),
population left out in the cold? and cost effectiveness. These policies can
also enable women to achieve their desired
family size, and lead to lower fertility and
Population policies offer options to lessen climate risks slower population growth (3). The resulting
demographic changes can not only lessen
By John Bongaarts1 and Brian C. O’Neill2,3 ernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the emissions that drive climate change but
the primary source of scientific information also improve the ability of populations to

W
ould slowing human population for the international climate change policy adapt to its consequences.
growth lessen future impacts of process, is largely silent about the potential
anthropogenic climate change? for population policy to reduce risks from MISPERCEPTION 1: POPULATION GROWTH
With an additional 4 billion peo- global warming. Though the latest IPCC re- IS NO LONGER A PROBLEM
ple expected on the planet by port (2) includes an assessment of techni- The population growth rate of the develop-
2100, the answer seems an ob- cal aspects of ways in which population and ing world increased sharply in the 1950s and
vious “yes.” Indeed, substantial scientific climate change influence each other, the 1960s, resulting in a doubling of the world
literature backs up this intuition. Many assessment does not extend to population population from 3 billion in 1960 to over 6
nongovernmental organizations undertake policy as part of a wide range of potential billion in 2000 (4). The main cause of this
climate- and population-related activities, adaptation and mitigation responses. We acceleration was the spread of public health
and national adaptation plans for most of suggest that four misperceptions by many measures, which rapidly reduced death rates
the least-developed countries recognize in the climate change community play a while birth rates remained high. Slowing this
PHOTO: ECO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

population growth as an important com- substantial role in neglect of this topic, and population expansion became a top priority
ponent of vulnerability to climate impacts propose remedies for the IPCC as it pre- for the global development agenda. In the
(1). But despite this evidence, much of the pares for the sixth cycle of its multiyear as- 1970s and 1980s, substantial international
climate community, notably the Intergov- sessment process. assistance was invested in voluntary family
Population-related policies—such as of- planning programs to reduce fertility.
1
fering voluntary family planning services This early consensus on population
Population Council, New York, NY, USA. 2National Center
for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO, USA. 3University of as well as improved education for women policy ended in the 1990s when interest
Denver, Denver, CO, USA. Email: jbongaarts@popcouncil.org and girls—can have many of the desirable and international support waned for rea-

650 17 AUGUST 2018 • VOL 361 ISSUE 6403 sciencemag.org SCIENCE

Published by AAAS

changes clined. ning program led to a large cut in the coun. for the different trajectories (see supple. but to be double the size of Bangladesh’s. of modern methods. which had almost the same and projected future emissions (11). By contrast. tility decline (10). programs are one of the most cost-effective sons including (i) the belief that fertility luctance to violate social norms are also health and development investments avail- declines already under way in Asia and substantial barriers to use (7). mentary materials). African countries. disapproval of partners. Family planning methods. the mitment. Malawi. The potential emissions reduction is try’s potential 2100 population. the empowered women must have access to tion and Development (ICPD) to empha. overall emissions from low- achieving their reproductive goals for lim. Over the next ily planning programs to assist women in measured by the Human Development In. but they also accelerate fer- to materialize. Programs implemented ticipated to reduce climate change risks year. As a result. change are a result of income and consump- funding for family planning programs de. maternal outcomes of family planning programs. and communi. Bangladesh then slower future population growth would has become more accessible worldwide. Slower population growth and associ- stalled in several countries. industrialization. MATTER MUCH FOR CLIMATE care. about 85 million unintended pregnan. including nancies occur among women who want to In addition to improving the health and those influencing immigration. 7). demographic aims. of a rise in emissions per capita from rapid population intervention adopted by gov. INSIGHTS A community health worker shows women lack of access to services and the high costs ing poverty and reducing pressure on the how to use a condom in Bangladesh. have been attributed primarily to economic reports in part because population growth grams versus socioeconomic development growth powered by fossil fuels in the cur- no longer seemed an urgent matter. and coastal development. Fear of side effects of natural environment. Fam. Past and current emissions the coverage of population policy in IPCC because isolating the exact impact of pro. Im- cies result in 32 million unplanned births Rwanda have already resulted in sharp de. funding for Although many studies have assessed MISPERCEPTION 3: POPULATION DOES NOT reproductive health issues (e. and female genital cutting) rose and on raising contraceptive use and reduc. The potential impact of tiple studies using increasingly sophisticated developments have led to renewed concern these programs on long-range population methods have demonstrated that population about future population growth. Latin America would soon occur in Africa. in many can both lead to and result from slower million) in the developing world (6). Muslim countries in South Asia. can also affect vulnerability. These issues were widely debated in impacts of family planning programs on in economic structure. can reduce vulnerability tion growth could be reduced substantially planning is still given low priority. Development levels as regions explain this result. reduce these obstacles by increasing access. Anticipated future growth in in- range of interventions that influence fertil. including Nigeria. and declines in birth rates have siderably weaker. ing future emissions. In implemented one of the world’s most effec. the large majority of these (28 clines in fertility. 2018 the 1990s and 2000s and may have affected longer-term demographic trends. (iii) the failure of earlier providing subsidies. SCIENCE sciencemag. educated and 1994 International Conference on Popula. labor mobil- avoid pregnancy but are not using effective welfare of women. Well-run voluntary programs have interventions. contraception. and re. and by freeing up resources for adaptation.2 billion in 2100. Each Sub-Saharan Africa. Middle East. safe delivery. options. mul- Over the past decade. urbanization. (12). effects do not appear to be large enough to this rise is projected in sub-Saharan Africa By 2100. particularly size is illustrated by comparing Bangladesh plays an important role both in historical in sub-Saharan Africa. able to governments (9). it could reduce global rates across sub-Saharan Africa have re. Fertility and large even though policy-induced declines MISPERCEPTION 2: POPULATION POLICIES population trends are also affected by levels in population growth would be largest in ARE NOT EFFECTIVE of socioeconomic development. reduced fertility assists in eliminat. Much of population size over time (see the figure). Of course. not be the most important means of reduc- addition. fertility trajectories ated changes in age structure can also have latest UN world population projection is the differed substantially from 1980 onward.g. in the early 2000s in Ethiopia. Pakistan’s program was con. these mostly examined near-term effects The emissions and land use that drive climate eases. This the slower population growth (see supple- Asia (excluding East Asia) and Latin America suggests that the Bangladesh family plan. and contrary to expectations. Although mortality has dropped sharply as treatment population size in 1980.org/ on August 16. comes and energy use in these developing ity trends. size reproductive health and rights over some countries in Africa (5. but programs can also have a large impact in Slower population growth is also an- further investments are still needed. Voluntary family planning programs de. and expanding method These are not only important development dire predictions. Pakistan’s population is projected offset the emissions reduction produced by (from 1 billion in 2015 to 4 billion in 2100). related policies. Population policies often include other (ii) the expectation that high AIDS mortal. ity. as well as because of in- ernments (5). few decades. but this is regions that currently have low per-capita Population policies generally recommend a unlikely to be the dominant explanation emissions. Very few studies estimate tion growth. technological change. Unfortunately. Reasons for non-use include ties.org 17 AUGUST 2018 • VOL 361 ISSUE 6403 651 Published by AAAS . emissions by 40% or more in the long term mained high. ing birth rates. sexually transmitted dis. such as worldwide famine. successful in a number of countries. family population growth. spatial distribution of population. could be improved. positive economic effects that would tend to highest ever. programs in Asia and Latin America also Population-related policies that affect the The vast majority of unintended preg. two unexpected in most countries. As a result. and Latin America and in contraception to regulate their fertility. Existing to natural disasters and climate risks (13). birth tive voluntary family planning programs. Saharan Africa. Popula. and (iv) the call from the contributed to sustained declines in fertil. dex are nearly the same for Bangladesh and income countries are likely to rise because iting or spacing births have been the main Pakistan (8). As a result. and Downloaded from http://science. However. by avoiding these unplanned pregnancies. either directly or indirectly. in part other factors. AIDS and Pakistan. families. Fortunately. mentary materials). which are both poor majority. expecting 11. and other factors is not straightforward rently high-income countries. a resulting in increasingly large differences in drive greenhouse gas emissions up. as education and empowerment of women. are also projected to grow substantially. but these nearly 4 billion rise from 2015 (4). lacking government com. provements in education and health.sciencemag. These programs have been High-quality voluntary family planning creasing population. ity and population growth across Asia. signed to be responsive to cultural customs relevant programmatic interventions such ity would halt population growth in sub. which worldwide..

New York. urbanization. S. May. A key first step in remedying the www. and Islam based approach and for women everywhere 7. j MISPERCEPTION 4: POPULATION POLICY IS climate and development and deprives the REFERENCES TOO CONTROVERSIAL TO SUCCEED international community of an important 1. Bongaarts. Although slowed popula.“The Economist: Special Online Supplement” (Copenhagen Consensus Center. Das opposes sterilization. J. nomic and environmental benefits. as well as Bangladesh Population size (millions) pacts. 100 tive health and population policy. Want (United Nations Environment Programme.1126/science.sciencemag. the Catholic Church the SDGs. United Nations Development Program (UNDP). 300 its costs and benefits. should be assessed by experts in developing countries poses challenges for and considered by governments. 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