Coal-fired plants near Chongqin, China

Industrial plants in Sichuan, China, where population changes are expected to lead to higher emissions of heat-trapping gases. Credit: Arnold Drapkin/ZUMA Press/Alamy

Climate change

China’s societal shifts will take a toll on climate

Demographic changes affect a population’s activites — and could raise carbon emissions.

Carbon emissions are rising as a result of demographic shifts occurring in some rapidly developing nations.

When people age, marry or undergo other major life transitions, they change how they spend their time, which alters their energy-consumption patterns. But few studies have examined how these time-use changes affect emissions of greenhouse gases.

Biying Yu and Yi-Ming Wei of the Beijing Institute of Technology and their colleagues used data from China’s first large-scale time-use study to model the effects of two demographic changes expected in China: an increase in the number of one- and two-person households and in households that include people over the age of 65.

The researchers examined how those changes would play out in Sichuan, a less-developed Chinese province projected to grow to 85 million people in 2030. The researchers found that as households age, they demand more energy for cooking, heating and other uses. In Sichuan, this and other changes driven by demographic trends are expected to result in the emission of an extra 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2030. An estimated 93% of the increase is attributable to changes in time use.