PSN publishes Population & Climate Change Scoping Paper for DFID

December 1, 2009


PSN, in collaboration with UCL and LSHTM, has published a scoping paper for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) on the links between population and climate change.


Background to the paper

PSN was commissioned by DFID to produce a scoping paper on the links between population dynamics and climate change, in advance of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

DFID commissioned the paper to alert DFID staff and raise their understanding of the inter-relationship between population dynamics and climate change, and to highlight the cost-effective contribution that investment in sexual and reproductive health and rights can make to economic growth, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

The paper is a result of collaborative working between colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University College London (UCL) and The Population and Sustainability Network (PSN).

Key Messages

The paper is structured around six key messages, setting out background information, key messages, evidence and recommendations for each.

The report's key messages are:

  1. Rapid population growth has a negative impact on human development, provision of basic services, poverty eradication; an effect that is magnified and made more urgent in the context of climate change.
  2. Although the principle cause of climate change is consumption in developed countries, those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are those living in the developing world. Rapid population growth has a negative Impact on the ability of communities and countries to adapt to climate change, particularly if they are poor.
  3. Climate change induced mass migration is likely to be significant, and must be recognized as a legitimate response to climate change.
  4. Linking population dynamics, particularly population growth with climate change is sensitive; there is a need to forge consensus within the sexual and reproductive health and rights world and beyond on addressing this link in ways that emphasize the need for increased investment in family planning programmes that respect and protect rights, and ensuring that the link is made in ways that do not blame the South (where most population growth is taking place) for climate change which has clearly been caused by the significantly greater per capita consumption in the North.
  5. Despite evident need for family planning services, there is a lack of global funding for & attention to family planning; funding for family planning has been declining over the past 15 years, despite the known contribution of sexual and reproductive health and rights to the achievement of the MDGs.
  6. Population dynamics have not been systematically integrated into climate change science. Research is urgently needed on the extent to which addressing population dynamics, including population growth, migration, urbanisation, ageing, household composition.


The paper concludes that the links between population and climate change, while complex and controversial, are critical. With this in mind it makes a series of recommendations to DFID, which are also of great relevance to wider organisations and policy makers seeking to respond to the challenges posed by climate change.

Key recommendations and policy points include:

  • Rights-based family planning programmes work.
  • Family planning should be publicly and actively supported as part of a climate change response. 
  • Adequate resources will be needed for climate change refugees, and those suffering from pressures on resources resulting from population growth and other factors, for adaptation, particularly in the area of energy, and for dealing with mass migration.
  • Planning must begin for mass-migration caused by climate change.
  • Growth should be encouraged in, development aid allocated to ‘climate-safe’ cities.
  • Core climate change funding should include streams for family planning/reproductive health programmes and activities, particularly in respect of funding available for NAPAs.
  • International funding for family planning programmes must be increased.
  • Research should be supported that will provide the evidence-base for sustainable policy decisions on future development strategies.

Read the paper