IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Another look at population and global warming


  • Birdsall, Nancy


The author addresses two questions: First, how much could feasible reductions in projected rates of population growth in the developing countries help reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Second, how much would it cost to ensure such reductions in population growth, compared with other options for reducing emissions? The answer to the first question is that reductions in population growth would matter, but not much. Based on current econometric estimates linking population growth to deforestation, feasible reductions in population growth could reduce emissions from deforestation (relative to what they otherwise would be) by 8 percent over the next 35 years. Feasible reductions in population growth rates could reduce fossil fuel emissions by about 10 percent. The percentage reductions, though substantial, are small relative to projections of a tripling or more in emissions under any baseline scenario in the next 50 years. Thus there is little basis for the view that the South could contribute to major reductions in global warming by taking new and stronger steps to reduce its population. The answer to the second question is that reducing population growth is cost-effective compared with other options to reduce emissions. The author estimates the costs of reducing carbon emissions by reducing births through increased spending on family planning at between $6 and $12 per ton; and by educating girls at between $4 and $8 per ton. These compare to a marginal cost of $20 per ton to reduce current emissions by 10 percent, using a carbon tax. Discounting reduces the cost advantage of the population reduction strategies over the tax, but does not eliminate them as a critical part of an overall global strategy to reduce emissions. The implication of the cost analysis is simple: The global negative externality represented by rapid population growth in developing countries provides a strong, new rationale for developed countries, in their own interests, to finance programs that would reduce population growth in developing countries. This is true even though feasible reductions in population growth would represent only a modest contribution to reducing greehouse gas emissions. Spending to reduce rates of population growth in developing countries makes sense as part of any optimal carbon reduction strategy.

Suggested Citation

  • Birdsall, Nancy, 1992. "Another look at population and global warming," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1020, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1020

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. King, Elizabeth M. & Bellew, Rosemary T., 1989. "The effects of Peru's push to improve education," Policy Research Working Paper Series 172, The World Bank.
    2. Anwar Shah & Bjorn Larsen, 2014. "Carbon taxes, the greenhouse effect, and developing countries," Annals of Economics and Finance, Society for AEF, vol. 15(1), pages 353-402, May.
    3. Hyde, W.F. & Newman, D.H. & Sedjo, R.A., 1991. "Forest Economics and Policy Analysis," World Bank - Discussion Papers 134, World Bank.
    4. King, Elizabeth M. & Lillard, Lee A., 1987. "Education policy and schooling attainment in Malaysia and the Philippines," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 167-181, April.
    5. Kelley, Allen C, 1988. "Economic Consequences of Population Change in the Third World," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(4), pages 1685-1728, December.
    6. Thomas Sterner, 1989. "Oil Products in Latin America: The Politics of Energy Pricing," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2), pages 25-46.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. David Wheeler & Dan Hammer, 2010. "The Economics of Population Policy for Carbon Emissions Reduction in Developing Countries," Working Papers id:3231, eSocialSciences.
    2. L. Wexler, 1996. "Improving Population Assumptions in Greenhouse Emissions Models," Working Papers wp96099, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
    3. Geisler, Charles & de Sousa, Ragendra, 2000. "From Refuge To Refugee: The African Case," Working Papers 12777, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Land Tenure Center.
    4. Shi, Anqing, 2003. "The impact of population pressure on global carbon dioxide emissions, 1975-1996: evidence from pooled cross-country data," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 29-42, February.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1020. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Roula I. Yazigi). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.