The steep path to 1.5 degrees

Another good post from Jeremy Williams on the challenge we face in remaining within 1.5 degrees of global warming…

Make Wealth History

At the Paris climate talks last December, the international community recommitted itself to keeping below two degrees of global warming, with a stretch goal of 1.5 degrees. We’ve already had one degree of warming, so 1.5 is a much tougher target. As I’ve mentioned before, the difference between the two is much bigger than the fractional increase in heat. Climate change does not progress in a nicely orderly and linear fashion. Incidences of extreme weather are likely to double between 1 and 1.5 degrees, and double again between 1.5 and 2.

For some parts of the world, that’s the difference between climate change that they can adapt to, and conditions that are unliveable. Cue the evacuation of low-lying islands, and a new crisis of climate migration. The impact on crop yields would be much more serious, and perhaps most striking – at 2 degrees we are likely to completely lose…

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How Islabikes are embracing the circular economy

Make Wealth History

Islabikes is a British company that specialises in children’s bikes. Their USP is that they go the extra mile in designing bikes for the particular needs of smaller riders. Their bikes are notably lighter than their competitors, and every part has been appropriately scaled down – no regular sized brake levers or chains used to save money. That makes them more expensive, but if you’ve come across the brand before, the chances are that it was from an enthusiastic parent and customer. My sister is one such enthusiast, and she passed on the news of their latest venture.

Having reset the standard for children’s bikes, the company is now tackling sustainability. Through their Imagine Project, they are shifting towards a distinctively circular economy business model. One aspect of this is to start leasing bikes, with Islabikes maintaining ownership of the bikes and the raw materials used to make them…

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How rewilding can help to stop floods

Make Wealth History

Every year flooding costs Britain around a billion pounds. As the climate warms and extreme weather events become more frequent, floods could be more common and more expensive. Severe floods in 2015 have prompted a debate about how to address this growing problem, with the government publishing a new National Flood Resilience Review last week. It looks at key infrastructure sites to protect, flood responses and defences. While it touches on land management, one thing it doesn’t investigate much is the opportunity to let nature prevent floods for us.

rewilding-floodsThat’s something Rewilding Britain have been working on, and their new report explains the idea. How Rewilding Reduces Flood Risk describes the processes of natural flood management, and shows that they work.

One of the key principles is that flooding causes havoc in towns, but the water has all come in from the country. To prevent it building up too fast…

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Should we be worrying about the global population?

By Dave Sanderson

The second of three guest blogs this week from Dave Sanderson to mark World Overshoot Day, 8 August 2016

Immigration featured highly in the recent Brexit debate but much less was said about the overall population of Britain. And very little is ever said about the rapidly increasing global population, despite it being one factor behind increasing immigration to Britain, Europe and the USA. Clearly, the number of people on the earth cannot grow forever, so should we be concerned?

Let’s look at the current situation. As of June 2016, UN data shows the global human population was 7.33bn. The ten most populous countries are:

1. China 1,373,541,278   6. Pakistan 201,995,540
2. India 1,266,883,598   7. Nigeria 186,053,386
3. United States 323,995,528   8. Bangladesh 171,696,855
4. Indonesia 258,316,051   9. Russia 142,355,415
5. Brazil 205,823,665   10. Japan 126,702,133

The UK population is 65.1m, making it the second most populous country in the EU after Germany (80.7m) and greater than third placed France with 64.7m. The total population of the 28 EU countries is 738m, 10.05% of the global total.

It is interesting to see how population is changing over time. Again the UN provides the numbers:


The global population is currently growing rapidly, at about 80m / year but with very different rates of growth in different countries. These latest (2015) UN population projections were published in 2016, referring to data from 2015. They predict higher world population figures than the previous set did. In a nutshell, the current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 (16% increase), 9.7 billion in 2050 (33% increase) and 11.2 billion in 2100 (53% increase). These are the median figures and small changes in fertility now could lead to higher or lower figures in the future. 

Several very striking points are made in the UN report which we must think about carefully as they will affect us all. Half of the world’s population growth is expected to be concentrated in nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America (USA), Indonesia and Uganda, listed according to the size of their contribution to the total growth.  So the world’s biggest consumer, the USA will have significant population growth, with dire consequences for our environment.

Ten African countries are projected to have increased by at least a factor of five by 2100: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. How very poor, hot, dry and weakly governed countries with small economies like Somalia, Mali and Niger could sustain a population 5 times as great as they have now is very hard to imagine. A humanitarian crisis (famine, war etc) seems inevitable and millions may die or emigrate if they can. A very good reason to ensure that national and international aid programmes focus on provision of sex and female health education, provision of free contraception etc…if the local governments will allow that.

Europe is predicted to see a fall in its indigenous population. Indeed, in June 2016 data showed that for the first time, deaths exceeded births in the EU. Yet the report also says that rich countries will increasingly become a magnet for economic migrants from poor countries with fast growing populations; overall EU population is still growing for this reason, leading to significant political and economic effects. According to the UN, most of UK population growth will come from immigration in future. It would seem unlikely that this net in-flow (net, because a smaller number of people migrate in the opposite direction) can be stopped as nations perceived as wealthy and liberal will be an irresistible draw to ever increasing numbers of young people in poorer nations desperate to better themselves. Many developed nations have ageing populations and some say they need young immigrants to help maintain economic growth and standards of living. Yet that is an unsustainable ponzi-scheme argument, as those young immigrants will themselves age, so will need more young people to support them etc etc. As the UK Brexit vote demonstrated, most people (not just in the UK) don’t want more immigration as it is perceived to dilute social cohesion. There is thus a need for a pragmatic, data-driven debate about this to arrive at a wise and practical way forward.

These figures ARE worrying. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste, according to the Global Footprint Network’s Overshoot Index . Obviously we only have one Earth. A bigger population makes solving existing problems (political, economic, social as well as environmental) worse and the issues harder to deal with. As Sir David Attenborough said on January 17 2016 ‘It seems to me that every one of the ills of the past 200 years – hunger, famine, loss of identity, forests disappearing, loss of dignity, overcrowding, loss of countryside – it’s all to do with increased population…Anywhere that women have control of their bodies and education and are literate and politically independent, the birth rate falls.

This surely is good reason for Governments (and all political parties) to place this issue at the heart of policy making and strategies. And, as Sir David points out, the solutions are well known.

Dave Sanderson is a retired economic development professional, active in many areas of sustainability. He is deeply involved with Greater Manchester TreeStation, is on the Board of the Woodland Trust’s Smithill Enterprise Hub, helped found the Saddleworth Hydro Scheme, acts as a Woodland Creation Champion, monitors bird populations for the RSPB and BTO and is an active member of the charity Population Matters.

To find out more about how population growth and sustainability impact the planet, visit and get involved.

New research suggests that family planning plays a significant role in achieving sustainability gains

Wordwatch Inst

Photo credit: Wilson Center

By Anders Lorenzen

It is a controversial issue that has divided environmentalists, but new research suggests that family planning could have significant environmental and sustainability gains.

A joint project between Worldwatch Institute and the Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability Assessment (FPESA) evaluated hundreds of peer-reviewed documents released since 2005. The project found that there is an indirect link, demonstrating that family planning can contribute to a more sustainable world.

The comprehensive report Family Planning and Environmental Sustainability: Assessing the Science, which documented the findings of the project was launched in Washington D.C. last week at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.

The researchers found that major reductions in unintended pregnancies, which now account for two out of five pregnancies worldwide, would significantly lower birth rates in both high and low-consuming countries. This could, in turn, achieve a lower trajectory in world population growth in the first half of the 21st century, which would reduce greenhouse gasses to an extent equal to eliminating all deforestation. On top of this, a greater use of family planning would also facilitate more participation by women in economic activity and in civil society. This, in turn, could improve environmental outcomes locally and globally.

However, Robert Engelman, former president of the Worldwatch Institute who directed the project did underline that the family planning issue is controversial. This is because the use of family planning should always be a private choice, which people are making for their own reasons, though he stated:

“Yet demonstrated synergies between the two might help advance both environmental sustainability and access to family planning for those who want it. Our objective has been to see what the scientific literature has to say about the connection and to assess the evidence base.”

A total of 939 papers were evaluated. Out of those, 112 papers were identified as ‘certainly relevant’ to the concept that family planning benefits the environment, with 302 other papers ranked as ‘probably relevant’. The ‘relevant’ papers either support or undermine the above theory, with the majority of the ‘certainly relevant’ papers supporting it, but none undermining the theory. Through the research, several theories arose. One such theory links slower population growth and the empowerment of women as pathways in which family planning might contribute to environmental sustainability.

A smaller proportion of the reviewed papers gives credence to the idea, that women who are able to make their own reproductive choices are more likely to contribute to environmental sustainability. This would be through consumption choices and/or participation in politics and civil society. A secondary theory was also in play: that research interest in the family planning-environmental sustainability linkage is widespread among women and men in developing as well as in developed countries.

Robert Engelman felt that the theory that the researchers examined was a success. He based this on the high proportions of relevant authors who are women and many from developing countries.  He also called for further research into this subject, stating:

“Given high levels of interest in the potential contribution of family planning to the environment, and the importance of the linkage for both sustainability and reproductive health and rights, more research and funding is needed, especially for young researchers and those in developing countries.”

It was also deemed important to the findings that the researchers collaborating in the assessment shared a commitment to the human rights foundation of family planning. It was seen as a personal choice for couples and individuals, in deciding if and when to have a child. And, crucially, the group identified no research suggesting that a weakening of this foundation would make any contribution to sustainability.

China’s controversial one-child policy which some believe had sustainability gains also had serious human rights implications. The authors of this report seem adamant that the China example is not one to follow. But voluntary family planning should be greatly encouraged, and this route could have very positive sustainability and environmental gains.

Originally published on A greener life, a greener world