Population growth is a part of the problem but so are consumption and economic growth. However, the world population can’t be reduced rapidly enough to prevent global warming (although eventually population must decrease).

The greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming largely result from humanity’s use of fossil-fuel based energy. The amount of energy used per person typically depends on their ‘standard of living’. People in developed countries tend to use considerably more energy than those in developing countries (although the balance is changing as countries like China and India rapidly expand their economies). In fact a country’s Gross Domestic Product fairly closely correlates with the amount of energy it consumes. Therefore global emissions currently depend on both population and standard of living.

It is necessary to significantly reduce humanity’s emissions within the next few years, and the sooner the better, if we are to avoid crossing the threshold of 2°C warming leading to dangerous climate change towards the end of the 21st century. This means that we all must learn to live much more sustainably and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions drastically. In developed countries this can be done by changing behaviour and by adopting relevant technologies, without necessarily reducing our standard of living. In developing countries increasing standards of living, improvements in education (particularly of females) and increasing life expectancies will slowly help to reduce birth rates. This is a key part of the longer term solution.