Can population policy lessen future climate impacts?

August 16, 2018

Population has been seemingly left out of climate change assessments, including by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In this Policy Forum, John Bongaarts and Brian O'Neil highlight several reasons why, and they also discuss why addressing our rapidly growing global population in the context of climate policy is so important. According to Bongaarts and O'Neil, several misconceptions about population policy have likely led to its neglect. Among those is a sentiment that population policies are not effective in reducing population growth. However, voluntary and culturally-sensitive family planning programs could play a notable role in reducing the nearly 85 million unintended pregnancies worldwide each year, the authors argue based a 2014 study on family planning, particularly in areas with little or no access to family planning resources. Another misconception about population that has left it largely undiscussed, according to the authors, is that population policy is too controversial. Like climate change itself, family planning draws great criticism from religious, political and social groups, which is perhaps why the climate community has avoided a focus on it. According to the authors, population information must be included in future IPCC assessments, a change that could be facilitated by including more social scientists working in the field of reproductive health and population policy in related discussions.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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