Apr 6, 2012
Climate change could aid northern Europe's aging populations
Climate change could help to revitalize the flagging economies of northern Europe over the coming decades. The UK in particular is set to benefit from an influx of skilled migrants, relocating from the countries hit hardest by global warming. New work in Environmental Research Letters (ERL) suggests that this wave of migrants could help to alleviate some of the economic and social pressures caused by an aging population.
The inhabitants of the developed world are living longer and having fewer children. As a result, they are on the march towards an aging, and ultimately contracting, population. Already one fifth of the population is over the age of 60, while only one sixth is under the age of 15 in more developed regions, like northern Europe. By 2050, projections suggest that there will be twice as many older people as there are young people.
The arrival of these older age structures in Europe's population has raised concern over the social and economic pressures that they may bring. Who is going to pay for pensions and healthcare, for example? And what is going to attract and keep young skilled workers so that Europe can avoid economic decline?
Meanwhile, less developed regions of the world, such as China, Latin America, India and parts of Africa, are set to boom as their populations continue to grow (albeit at a slower pace than in the past). "These places are going to be the vibrant economies of the future, leaving Europe unable to attract the skills it needs," said Sarah Harper, director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing at the University of Oxford, UK.
But what about the impact of climate change? Until now, projections have failed to take into account the interplay between economic development and the challenges presented by climate change. By comparing climate model scenarios with population and economic projections, Harper has shown that rising global temperatures are likely to give northern Europe the competitive edge.
"Many of the less developed countries are going to have to tackle huge climate change problems in the future, such as rising sea levels and extreme heat," Harper told environmentalresearchweb. Coastal cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Toyko and Mumbai are threatened by extreme flooding, while Asian and Latin-American regions are expected to suffer from more climate "shocks", such as extreme drought or intense tropical cyclones.
Northern Europe, by contrast, is predicted to fare better when climate change takes hold. "As a result, northern European cities are likely to become more attractive to skilled migrants, because they are situated in less environmentally challenging zones," argued Harper in her paper. Southern Europe is predicted to be too dry to benefit in the same way.
But will these skilled migrants be attracted to northern Europe in time to relieve the demographic deficit? "The skills shortage is expected to really hit northern Europe within the next couple of decades," said Harper. Climate models indicate that some of the more serious impacts of climate change will start to bite around the same time. Only time will tell, but if the models and projections are right then Asia's loss may be northern Europe's gain.
About the author
Kate Ravilious is a contributing editor for environmentalresearchweb.