Linking population and climate change

In a new article published in the journal Population Studies [1], Wolfgang Lutz and Erich Striessnig show that population growth and changes in demographic structure are key factors influencing future climate change and people’s ability to adapt.

Adapted from: © Sjors737 | Dreamstime

Adapted from: © Sjors737 | Dreamstime

The research relies on new IIASA population projections, which take into consideration not just the number of people, but also the composition of populations by age, sex, and educational attainment for a number of different scenarios designed for climate research, the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs). Population growth, in general, leads to greater emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. But a growing body of research shows that people’s education level, age, and other sociodemographic factors strongly influence their lifestyle. These factors affect not only emissions, but also people’s ability to adapt to climate change. For example, in a recent study the researchers showed that education makes people less vulnerable to the types of natural disasters that are expected to intensify with climate change, such as floods, landslides, and storms.

Until now, climate models have only included total population size and in some cases age structure. With the new SSPs, developed with a large contribution from IIASA research programs, the scenarios can now take into account multiple population characteristics including level of education.

The links between population characteristics and climate change are not simple one-to-one relationships, the research shows. For example, while increasing education is linked to increased affluence, and therefore greater consumption and emissions, research also shows that at a given level of income better educated people make more environmentally friendly consumption choices.


[1] Lutz W and Striessnig E (2015). Demographic aspects of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Population Studies 69 (sup1): S69–S76.

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Last edited: 25 February 2016


Wolfgang Lutz

Interim Deputy Director General for Science Directorate - DDG for Science Department

Principal Research Scholar and Senior Program Advisor Population and Just Societies Program

Principal Research Scholar and Senior Program Advisor Social Cohesion, Health, and Wellbeing Research Group - Population and Just Societies Program


Interview: Population characteristics and the climate

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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