New research concludes the global energy load has capacity to power universal decent living standards (DLS) and stay beneath a 1.5-degree Celsius ceiling for temperature rise. The study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) estimates the upfront construction of required homes and infrastructure would consume approximately 12 exajoules (EJ) or 12 million gigajoules (GJ) annually over a roughly 24-year period.
That’s just 3 per cent of current global annual final energy use. Once built, the homes and services would also add an estimated 68 EJ (68 million GJ) to the annual global energy load, but the researchers note that’s less than half of what climate scientists have plotted as an allowable increase in energy use.
“Our results support the view that, on a global scale, energy for eradicating poverty does not pose a threat for mitigating climate change,” says Jihoon Min, an IIASA scholar and one of the five authors of the study, which was recently published in the scientific journal, Environmental Research Letters. “However, to provide everyone with a decent life, energy redistribution across the world and unprecedented final energy growth in many poor countries is required.”
Rather than focusing solely on income, the DLS approach measures the material prerequisites for adequate shelter, nutrition, clean water, sanitation, cooking stoves and refrigeration, transportation and communications. This enables more accurate estimates of the resources needed to meet those basic needs, drilling down to the carbon footprint of building homes and infrastructure and continuing to deliver services to them.
The IIASA research team identified sub-Saharan Africa and South and Pacific Asian as global regions where the most investment and energy load growth would have to occur to achieve decent living standards. Notably, more than 60 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa falls short of at least half of the DLS indicators.
In contrast, they found that average energy demand exceeds hypothetical DLS requirements in most countries of the world. The energy required to meet the same provision of basic needs can also vary up to fourfold from country to country due to differences in climate, urbanization, diets and transportation infrastructure.
“An important policy lesson for national governments is the large impact of investing in public transit to reduce the use of passenger vehicles, which generally have much higher energy use per person,” submits Jarmo Kikstra, lead author of the study. “The biggest challenge for policymakers will be to achieve an equitable distribution of energy access worldwide, which is currently still out of reach.”