Climate change is an issue not only for the developed world, yet we hear from many commentators that man-made climate change is caused only by the West and China, but with its effects likely to be felt most acutely by developing countries through increased flooding, desertification and rising sea levels.
There isn’t space here to do justice to the entire debate, but one aspect that is missing in my view is global population growth. During my lifetime, the world population has exactly doubled, from some 3.3 billion in 1965 to some 6.6 billion today. It is people that cause carbon emissions, either directly through consumption, or indirectly through industry, travel and suchlike. The correlation between increased temperatures and population growth is a strong one – it doesn’t necessarily show causality, and certainly increased per capita energy consumption would also likely show a strong correlation. Nevertheless, we cannot go on pretending that doubling the number of humans on the planet every two generations won’t have an impact.
The answer from the “West is to blame lobby” to all this is that population growth does not particularly matter, as most of these extra human beings are born in developing countries, where emissions per capita are low. This is short-sighted, as it is impossible to square this observation with a desire to increase living standards in the developing world. At present, higher living standards inevitably lead to higher emissions (although this could change in the more distant future, with technological change).
Given the fact that I believe all of us have a moral duty to help raise living standards in the Third World, or “making poverty history” by another name, this creates a dilemma – how can one achieve a rising GDP per capita with, at the same time, lower emissions and also rising population. Using current technology, I believe it to be impossible. One of these three phenomena has to go, and I believe that developing countries have a duty to curb their population growth. Eventually, we hope and plan that poor but low emission populations will become wealthy but high emission people – to suggest that these extra millions of people each year need to stay poor for us to control climate change would be immoral.
Taken together, I believe British aid to the developing world needs to focus on two main objectives – increasing democracy and reducing population growth.