The relative population trends of the E.U.-15 and the United States seem to be a source of some confusion, if comments to my recent post on the European Union’s effort to meet its Kyoto targets are any indication.

One commenter writes “EU population is flat/declining. US population is growing.” Even our friend Roger Pielke, Jr. responds to my statement that “immigration now keeps their population rising almost as fast as United States,” with “You’ll want to recheck your assertion on the comparison of EU vs. US population growth.”

Here is the best comparison graph I could find online (the y-axis appears to be annual percentage growth rate):

Population growth rate

population growth

As can be seen, the annual population growth rates of the E.U.-15 and U.S. have been creeping towards each other and are getting surprisingly close. How is that possible?

I confess that for many years I also thought that E.U. population growth was flat whereas ours was growing some 1 percent a year, suggesting our climate targets should be quite different than theirs. But a little online investigation reveals that has more to do with confusion between the E.U.-15 and Europe and with too many popular media stories about the declining fertility rates in Europe. Like this country, much of the E.U.’s population growth comes from immigration.

You can find a very good explication of the issue in this piece from the Netherlands, “Migration motor behind EU population growth,” which was the link I used above in the statement that Pielke questioned.

(Note to self and other bloggers: Most people simply don’t click on the links. That is not good or bad. It just is. Blog accordingly.)

According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, population growth in the EU is mainly the result of foreign migration and, to a lesser extent, of natural growth.

Net migration in 2005 for the EU as a whole was estimated by Eurostat at 1.69 million. Natural population growth, defined as births minus deaths, was 327 thousand in 2005. Thus, total population growth in 2005 in the EU amounted to approximately 2.02 million. Altogether, 462 million people were living in the EU on 1 January 2006.

Please note that this is the E.U. as a whole — not the E.U.-15. Virtually all of the E.U.’s growth comes from the E.U.-15. In 2005, the E.U.-15 population was 389 million (see here for another good article sorting all this out).

Population growth EU-15

Population growth E.U.-15

EU-15: growth due to migration

Population developments in the 15 countries constituting the European Union until 1 May 2004 (EU-15) are quite different from those in the new EU member states. Since the late 1980s, the population increase in the EU-15 is mainly the result of foreign migration. In the early 1990s, the net migration increase was mainly caused by the massive arrival of refugees.

Around the turn of the century, when economy was booming, net migration in the EU-15 rose sharply, but after 2001, when the EU economy began to slump, the increase continued for a while. This was partly the effect of legalisation of former illegal aliens and the ensuing revision of population figures.

New member states: declining populations

The role of migration in population developments is far less prominent in the ten new EU member states than in the former EU-15. In the new member states, particularly those in Eastern Europe, the growth of the population is largely determined by births and deaths.

Expected growth until 2025

Eurostat expects the population in the EU to increase in the long run and reach 470 million in 2025. This increase will be entirely due to foreign migration (positive net migration 15 million in 2025). Until 2025, deaths will outnumber births by 5 million. Eurostat anticipates a reduction of the EU population after 2025 to 450 million in 2050.

Hope that clears things up.

The bottom line is that I don’t think the United States can hide behind the claim that its population is growing, while the E.U.-15’s isn’t, as an excuse for a much weaker climate target.

In fact, America needs to adopt a stronger greenhouse gas target (in terms of percentage reduction) than the E.U.-15, not weaker, for three reasons:

  1. In sharp contrast to Europe, the United States has a long history of promoting cheap energy and inefficiency, which has made America the Saudi Arabia of wasted energy.
  2. The very size and geographic diversity of this country gives us an astonishing resource base for wind power and solar power and biofuels that is far greater than that of Europe.
  3. We have dawdled for a decade and our emissions have risen steadily while the E.U.-15 has acted to actually reduce their emissions.

It is time for Americans to stop nitpicking what the Europeans are doing to meet their emissions reductions commitments under Kyoto. As someone said a long, long time ago :

Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.