Science minister Jitendra Singh says public awareness on climate and global birth rate need to be addressed
By Ros Donald
India’s science minister says global population levels need to be stabilised to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.
At a presentation of the UN’s IPCC climate science study in Delhi, Jitendra Singh said stabilisation of population was an “urgent need” according to a government report of his speech.
Few politicians have dared to make a link between population levels and climate change. Many people would regard attempts to control the population as an unwelcome intrusion on their private lives.
In the past 50 years India, China, Indonesia and Bangladesh have experimented with various forms of population control. These include limits on family size and forced sterilisation.
China relaxed its one-child policy at the end of 2013, allowing couples to have two children if one of the parents was an only child.
According to the World Bank, India’s population grew 1.2% to 1.27 billion in 2013, while China’s rose 0.5% to 1.35 billion.
China is the world’s largest emitter of climate warming greenhouse gases, while India is the third largest.
Both have smaller carbon footprints per head than the US, although China’s drew level with the EU’s in 2013.
The UN estimates the global population will pass 10 billion by 2050, a rise of around 3 billion on today’s levels.
Scientists in the US, Austria and Germany found in a 2010 study restricting population to 7.5 million by 2050 could achieve 16-29% of the emission reductions needed to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.
“By the end of the century, the effect of slower population growth would be even more significant, reducing total emissions from fossil fuel use by 37–41%,” they said.
Last year UK natural history expert and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough told the Daily Telegraph the world was “heading for disaster”.
“They’ve been having… what are all these famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little piece of land. That’s what it’s about,” he said.
“And we are blinding ourselves. We say, get the United Nations to send them bags of flour. That’s barmy.”
Others disagree. They say the number of people is less important than the amount of resources used per person, specifically in industrialised countries.
The UN Population Fund said in 2008 dangerous global environmental change could be avoided if developing countries adopted the growth models of developed parts of the planet.
It read: “What is generally not understood, however, is that in many cases, the expectation that this problem can be significantly alleviated through population stabilisation is not founded on demographic realities and can divert attention from other necessary approaches to mitigation.
“The choices that are made now will determine the quality of life and environmental conditions left to future generations. Because these choices involve issues of lifestyles and allocation, and because they are long-term in nature, they are undeniably difficult to address.”