Nav: Home

How much energy do we really need?

November 18, 2019

Two fundamental goals of humanity are to eradicate poverty and reduce climate change, and it is critical that the world knows whether achieving these goals will involve trade-offs. New IIASA research for the first time provides a basis to answer this question, including the tools needed to relate basic needs directly to resource use.

Researchers have been grappling with the question of how much energy societies actually need to satisfy everyone's most basic needs for many years, but as global scenarios of climate stabilization assume strong reductions in energy demand growth in the face of the climate crisis - especially in developing countries - finding an answer is becoming crucial. In their study published in the journal Nature Energy, IIASA researchers attempted to find out whether meeting everyone's most basic human needs is in fact an impediment for stabilizing climate change.

"People have long worried that economic development and climate mitigation aren't compatible - that the growth required to bring billions of people out of poverty would make it impossible to reduce net emissions to zero - which is a requirement for climate stabilization. Until now, the research community however had no way to separate out the energy needs for eradicating poverty from countries' overall demand growth. Without this, vast inequalities and unsustainable consumption patterns in developing countries were being ignored," explains study lead author Narasimha Rao, a researcher in the IIASA Energy Program, who is also on the faculty of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

The researchers chose three developing countries, Brazil, India, and South Africa, and for each country asked what material requirements were underpinning basic human needs; and how the energy resources required to meet these basic needs vary in different contexts (e.g., climate or culture) within each country. In order to do this, they developed a new way of deriving energy demand from basic services rather than from economic growth, so that energy for poverty eradication could be separated from those for affluence.

The results show that the energy needs for providing decent living standards to all in the chosen countries are well below their current national energy use, and also well below average global energy use per capita. Energy for providing good health and education is far less than that for physical infrastructure, transit and buildings. These energy needs can however be further reduced if countries provide extensive affordable public transit and use local materials in building construction.

"We didn't expect that the energy needs for a minimally decent life would be so modest, even for countries like India where large gaps exist. It was also a pleasant surprise that the most essential human needs related to health, nutrition, and education, are cheap in terms of energy. Along the way, we also found that measuring poverty in terms of these material deprivations far exceeds the World Bank's definition of income poverty," Rao elaborates.

The findings further indicate that affluence, more than basic needs, drives energy demand, and that the bulk of future energy growth in these countries will likely serve the middle classes and affluent, even if governments prioritized poverty eradication. This suggests that close attention should be paid to lifestyles and how they evolve in developing countries. The researchers further emphasize that developing countries have different resource needs to meet the same human development goals. Brazil, for instance, has comparably high energy intensity of mobility due to a high dependence on cars. Because of these differences, developing countries will face different costs and challenges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from raising citizens' quality of life above a basic standard. Future pledges in the Paris Agreement will have to consider these differences to ensure that countries perceive their efforts as comparable and fair.

"Eradicating poverty need not stand in the way of stabilizing climate at safe levels. Our study suggests that we need to measure societal progress in terms of these multiple dimensions, not just income, and we should also pay attention to the distribution of growth in developing countries. This can point us to new ways to improve wellbeing while reducing emissions. Policymakers should give particular attention to investing in public transit, green and locally sourced buildings, and encouraging sustainable diets and food systems. These insights can inform current negotiations under the Paris agreement. Countries should take stock and step up the ambition in their pledges," Rao concludes.
-end-
Reference

Rao N, Min J, & Mastrucci A (2019). Energy requirements for decent living in India, Brazil and South Africa. Nature Energy DOI: 10.1038/s41560-019-0497-9

More info/Links

http://www.iiasa.ac.at

Contacts:

Researcher contact

Narasimha Rao
Research Scholar
IIASA Energy Program
Tel: +43 2236 807 216
nrao@iiasa.ac.at

Press Officer

Ansa Heyl
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 574
Mob: +43 676 83 807 574
heyl@iiasa.ac.at

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. http://www.iiasa.ac.at

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.