Population and consumption

The project benefits from cohort-component population modelling with additional consumption indicators to obtain the compound effect and impact on the environment. Development of model (add migration and test at different scales: national, sub-national, urban) and versatile scenarios to best reflect future 20..50 year demographic, environment and/or policy challenges for selected regions in the areas of energy use and emissions and/or consumption of e.g. fresh foods.

Builds on the Sustainable cities grand challenges project (2013):

Our findings so far underline the need for a close look at the pressures on environmental resources. Identifying population as a main driver, together with fertility and consumption may propagate our understanding of sustainability futures.  Projections in terms of population numbers and consumption scenarios paint a picture of opportunity as well as threat. It matters greatly for our resource future what the population structure entails, but also what the consumption trends are. We can affect the course of such trends.

A positive outlook arises from the global trend of decreasing fertility, preferably coupled to reduced impact through declining per capita consumption. Global population growth is expected to stabilize somewhere in the latter half of the 21st century as fertility rates decline, but the inertia in the population is such that even with rapid reductions in fertility there is a lag in impact, especially in countries where the age structure is relatively young. On the other hand, fast growing urban metropolises are manifesting fertility rates significantly below replacement levels, and urbanisation is still on the increase. Reductions in individual impact, achieved through e.g. reduced emissions (improved energy efficiency and use of less polluting energy sources), can have immediate effects in reducing environmental pressures. Our results show that lasting, sustainable reductions in impact are seen with commitments to reductions in consumption and concomitant low fertility such as typically found in urban areas.

More work is needed to systematically investigate different regional and country contexts, consumption types, links to household composition and age patterns of consumption. Emissions data can be further analysed according to categories such as industry, transport, domestic, as well as by affluence. The results of these studies may inform the debates of urban growth and sustainability, the need for more planning and governance regarding consumption, the unmet need for family planning, and resource use globally.

With thanks to the Kone foundation and BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities/UCL Grand Challenges.

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