According to Associate Professor Adrian Hayes on the Australian National University (ANU), the role of population in the causes and consequences of climate change needs to be better understood.
In a seminar, part of the Environment and Water Matter! series organised by Flinders University, on 3 August 2011, Prof Hayes explored the ways in which population dynamics influence both greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change on human and managed ecosystems. Based on his recently-completed study on population and climate change in Indonesia, Prof Hayes put emphasis on the role population-related policies should play in a country’s mitigation and adaptation strategies, and the role social scientists should play in national and international climate debates.
The choice of Indonesia as a case study is ideal. Indonesia and its population are extremely vulnerable to climate change effects especially due to sea-level rise. With over 42 million people living less than ten metre above the sea level, increased floods and extreme rain events are likely to be major disruptions for the country’s agricultural production. Increased temperature also impacts the agricultural production adversely. It is projected that between 2070 and 2099, the average temperature of Indonesia will increase to 28.58 degree of Celsius; a substantial increase from 25.76°c in the 1961 to 1990 period (Cline 2007).
At the individual level, climate change effects may cause at least two major changes: changing work environment, changing production processes and possibly consumption patterns. Increased temperature may reduce the workers’ working hours. Fewer working hours could potentially reduce family income. Temperature rise could also affect human’s health which consequentially could negatively impact one’s earnings in addition to lower quality of life.
Climate change effects are potentially more evident for unskilled farmers with low educational background than for skilled workers. The vast majority of the poor people in Indonesia including farmers are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. Hence, any significant change in natural resources especially forests, agricultural land and sea can cause a substantial loss of the sources of earnings for many rural communities. Labours with high adaptive skills may opt to move to other industries such as services and manufacturing. Those who stay, on the other hand, must adjust their production processes. For farmers, this may imply change in agricultural commodities, the beginning of the planting period and many other adaptation options.
At the national level, the indirect effects of climate change could widen income inequality, increase poverty rates and increase burden of health costs. These effects are possible given that agriculture growth, especially in rural areas, is still one of the most important channels to reduce poverty (Suryahadi, Suryadarma and Sumarto 2009). With increased concerns over issues on food security, climate change effects could become the major cause of hunger given unstoppable increases in food prices due to the shortage of food supply.
Prof Hayes referred to a conceptual framework to assess the impacts of change in popolation on environments, the IPAT equation:
I= P x A x T
It describes the multiplicative contribution of population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T) to environmental impact (I). The problem with this equation is the interdependence between variables making it difficult to predict the impact of each of the right-hand side variables.
An alternative to the IPAT equation is the Kaya identity:
- I is global CO2 emissions from human sources,
- P is global population,
- G is world GDP and g = (G/P) is global per-capita GDP,
- E is global primary energy consumption and e=(E/G) is the energy intensity of world GDP,
- and (F/E) is the carbon intensity of energy.
The Kaya identity plays a significant role in the estimation of future global emissions as presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Prof Hayes explained that population dynamics affect CO2 emissions through multiple paths not just through population size and growth. The demographic transition model, which seeks to explain the transformation of countries from having high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates, provides a useful framework to predict how change in population age composition is related to economic growth and, therefore, to the environmental impacts.
On the link between economic growth and environmental degradation, it is predicted that the relationship forms an inverted U-shape. This Environmental Kuznet Curve implies that eventually growth reduces the environmental impacts of economic activities. However, some studies suggest that this inference should be taken carefully. Income inequality for example is an important determinant. According to Stern (1996), a conclusion that further development will reduce environmental degradation is dependent on the assumption that world per capita income is normally distributed when in fact median income is far below mean income.
Indonesia’s policy responses to climate change has been quite ‘aggressive’. Prof Hayes viewed that Indonesia would benefit from the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme. However, an attendee raised concerns over the distribution of the benefits which might be disadvantaged by serious problems with corruption that the country is still struggling to deal with.
Prof Hayes pointed out the lack of empirical evidence on various channels between population dynamics and climate change in Indonesia. One particular example is rising middle income. Rising middle income might imply that the population is now better educated and therefore has a better ‘adaptive capacity’ to adjust to the change in climate and environment for example through inter-sectoral labour migration. On the other hand, with higher income, the population may have higher consumption rates and if they follow ‘western-style’ consumption pattern, as Prof Hayes used, this rising middle income might adversely impact the environment. To some extent, government regulations to impose standards and control environmental degradation might limit the impact of higher consumption and growth rates. Given the demographic transition model, it is predicted that in the next 20-30 years or so, aging population would also be part of Indonesia population challenges.
The above discussion highlights the importance of contribution from social scientists to the debate and scientific development of global emissions estimation especially to take into account ‘human issues’ such as corruption, good governance, population dynamics, fertility rates, and many other social issues. At the end of the day, we are all human with our good and bad deeds.
This article is prepared by Risti Permani.