Accra, Ghana, 6–11 October 2019
Risk from demographic change – population growth needs to play a more central role in climate debate
Summer Academy “Global Risk Trends – Climate and Demographic Change”
Climate change will force virtually every country in the world to adapt to changes: hotter summers, more frequent intense precipitation, more intensive storms, and loss of land areas due to sea level rise – to name just a few. The various countries have very different potentials for coping with the impending changes. These depend on their economic clout, social stability and intact ecosystems.
Essentially, the risks from climate changes are determined by three factors: hazard, exposure and vulnerability. Changes in the climate are material for the degree of hazard, and these are being intensively analysed and processed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat. One problem is that the area of vulnerability harbours major risk drivers that have not been adequately reflected so far in the risk models. Yet, to a large extent, these models are used as the basis for the different national adaptation strategies. In simple terms, the national adaptation plans (NAPs) are currently based on what, in some cases, are unrealistic future scenarios. One risk driver that does not receive nearly enough attention – despite the fact that it can have massive repercussions – is demographic change. The impacts include issues relating to gender, age, migration, level of education, and population growth. At the 2019 Summer Academy, there was an in-depth focus on these subjects, and we examined how scientific findings on demographic change could be better integrated into UNFCCC recommendations for action.
Population growth and climate change in Accra
The absence of waste removal is one aspect of the lack of infrastructure, with the result that rubbish poses a further serious problem. Domestic waste is frequently dumped in the water and collects at the bridges spanning the lagoon. This forms a type of artificial dam that prevents efficient run-off of rainwater or flood waves. Because of this disposal gap, the population becomes more vulnerable to climate risks – in this case floods. And extreme precipitation events are also on the rise in Ghana.
Electronic waste from Europe part of the problem
Matthias Garschagen (LMU Munich), Koko Warner and Paul Desanker, both from the UNFCCC Secretariat, warned that demographic changes are still seriously under-represented in the existing UNFCCC processes. They praised the Academy because it was now opening a window of opportunity. Decision-makers must be reminded more clearly that greater attention needs to be paid in a planning context to demography as a key driver of risks. Participants at the Summer Academy have drawn up the wording for a policy brief intended to draw the attention of decision-makers directly to this important gap. The policy brief is to be introduced into the debate at the COP 25 climate change conference in Chile. For sustainable solutions can only succeed in the context of climate change if adequate allowance is made for demographic change.
The Academy 2019 was jointly organised by Munich Re Foundation, the UNU-EHS from Bonn, LMU Munich and the UNU-INRA Ghana in partnership with UNFCCC Secretariat. The excursion received substantive support from the NGO People’s Dialogue and was prepared with assistance from staff of the World Bank.
16 October 2019