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How many people having only one child would it take to reduce tCO2e emissions to the target level?

Having read this article based on a recent study, apparently having one fewer child is the biggest thing by far that a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. But is this individual focus useful or a waste of time?

As of 2010, annual global emissions of greenhouse gases stood at nearly 46 billion metric tons, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalents.

According to the Presidential climate action project, global emissions need to decline by about 60% by 2050. That’s 27.6 billion metric tons of CO2e.

An individual having one fewer child would reduce annual emissions 58.6 tCO2e per year. That means to reach the 60% target, 471 million people would need to have one fewer child than they otherwise would. It takes two people to make a child, so really that’s 235.5 million less babies between now and the deadline. Only 142.6 million babies are born each year (according to 2013 figures), but we do have 32.5 years before the deadline.

Even if we imagine there was the best propaganda campaign possible, would it be possible to have 471 million people, 6.6% of the world’s population, motivated by climate change not to have a child when they otherwise would?

Fortunately, this isn’t the only or the main method by which reductions of emissions is sought. Each individual not having a child has the impact of 0.000000212% of the required emission reduction. At such a tiny part of the whole, a focus on individual responsibility for climate change seems unwarranted.