29th study: Demographic change and the environment

16 February 2011: Royal Commission launches 29th report 'Demographic Change and the Environment'

    The report explores the environmental challenges faced by the UK as a result of demographic change (changes in the numbers and distribution of people) in the UK in the years up to 2050.

    The Commission chose to study this topic because although there may be a growing understanding of the ways the UK population is changing - and much thought is already being given to the social and economic implications of these changes - it seemed that little attention had so far been paid to their environmental consequences.

    Importantly, the Commission conclude it is not primarily the size of the population that should be taken in to account when considering the environmental impact of demographic change in the UK. More important are factors such as household numbers and size, the age structure of the population, and where people live. Additionally, our current patterns of consumption (e.g. the amount of energy and water used in homes) have a greater impact on the environment than all the above demographic factors. There is far greater scope to influence consumption patterns and their impact than demographic patterns. The Commission believe a step change is needed in efforts to increase resource use efficiency.

    During the course of this study, the Commission have identified a real need for a more open and rational discussion about demographic change, and in particular the environmental impacts of demographic change. We hope that this report will provide a basis for starting that discussion, within Government and beyond.


    In view of the broad range of interest generated by this announcement, we decided to collect evidence for the study in two stages.

    First stage evidence

    As part of the first stage collection of evidence the Commission invited organisations and individuals to submit factual information about various aspects of demographic change and its potential environmental impacts in the UK.

    The Royal Commission invited anyone who wished to contribute to its study to submit information on particular aspects of demographic change by Friday 6 November 2009. View the letter containing more information sent to interested organisations (25th September 2009).

    The evidence received is made publically available and can be downloaded from this page. In addition, a summary of the evidence has been prepared, view the summary and the annexes.

    Second stage evidence

    Following the first stage of evidence gathering the Commission have identified a number of specific trends with the potential to have a significant impact on the UK environment. These are:

    • projected increases in the total population,
    • the changing age structure of the population,
    • changes in household size and composition,
    • the distribution of population between urban and rural areas, and
    • the regional distribution of population and the regional variation in population change.

    The Commission are particularly interested in the effect of these demographic trends on water use, energy consumption (and greenhouse gas emissions), waste generation, landscape and biodiversity in different parts of the UK.

    We have addressed specific queries directly to those whom we consider most likely to have the most relevant detailed information. Other organisations and individuals are invited to respond to a set of more general questions. The deadline for responses was Friday 9 April 2010.

    Workshops, visits and reports informing the study

    Several workshops and visits have been undertaken as part of the evidence gathering to inform the study. Brief reports of these events are provided below.

    Background to the study

    • Scoping phase - letter dated 19 March 2009 (invited comments by Friday 12 June 2009) 
    • 16 January 2009: Information regarding the shortlist of potential topics for the 29th report 



    Page last updated: 21 February 2011

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution