The Effect of Population Growth on the Environment: Evidence from European Regions

Abstract

There is a long-standing dispute on the extent to which population growth causes environmental degradation. Most studies on this link have so far analyzed cross-country data, finding contradictory results. However, these country-level analyses suffer from the high level of dissimilarity between world regions and strong collinearity of population growth, income, and other factors. We argue that regional-level analyses can provide more robust evidence, isolating the population effect from national particularities such as policies or culture. We compile a dataset of 1062 regions within 22 European countries and analyze the effect from population growth on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and urban land use change between 1990 and 2006. Data are analyzed using panel regressions, spatial econometric models, and propensity score matching where regions with high population growth are matched to otherwise highly similar regions exhibiting significantly less growth. We find a considerable effect from regional population growth on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and urban land use increase in Western Europe. By contrast, in the new member states in the East, other factors appear more important.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Note Thick black lines denote the median, box limits are 25th and 75th percentile, respectively, red marks are mean values, and jitter points are regions (N = 96 in high population growth group and N = 96 in control group). (Color figure online)

Fig. 5

Note Thick black lines denote the median, box limits are 25th and 75th percentile, respectively, red marks are mean values, and jitter points are regions (N = 96 in high population growth group and N = 96 in control group). (Color figure online)

Notes

  1. 1.

    The EU classifies its territory into four layers according to the Nomenclature des Unités Territoriales Statistiques (NUTS). The lowest level consists of NUTS-3 regions, designed to usually host between 150,000 and 800,000 people. France, for instance, consists of 100 NUTS-3 regions (départements), 20 NUTS-2 regions (régions), 8 NUTS-1 regions (groups of régions), and one NUTS-0 region (metropolitan France).

  2. 2.

    These countries are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. For CO2 emissions, no data were available for Croatia. As a result of a reform of regional boundaries in the German state of Saxony, most regions in Saxony are missing from the analysis (note the white area on the maps).

  3. 3.

    For the models explaining urban growth which is measured between 1990 and 2006, population growth is averaged for this period. However, population data are not available for all regions since 1990 in the source dataset; for these regions the values refer to average population growth between the earliest available year since 1990 and 2008. Figure 1 displays average annual population growth rates between 2000 and 2008 for all regions.

  4. 4.

    Since urban land use is measured as a percentage of total land use and therefore 0–1 bounded, we use the logit transformation on this variable.

  5. 5.

    A random effects model was initially considered (providing similar results to the fixed effects model), but a Hausman test suggested superiority of the fixed effects estimator. Since we are not interested in estimating country-level predictors, we went without random effects (or multilevel) models.

  6. 6.

    Optimal matching and genetic matching were used as alternative algorithms. Since the results do not differ substantially, we only report the findings from propensity score matching here.

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Correspondence to Hannes Weber.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 3, 4, and 5.

Table 3 Descriptive statistics
Table 4 Determinants of urban land growth in European NUTS-3 regions (additional spatial model specifications)
Table 5 Determinants of CO2 emission change in European NUTS-3 regions (additional spatial model specifications)

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Weber, H., Sciubba, J.D. The Effect of Population Growth on the Environment: Evidence from European Regions. Eur J Population 35, 379–402 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-018-9486-0

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Keywords

  • Population growth
  • CO2 emissions
  • Land use
  • NUTS-3 regions