Guarantee a decent standard of living for all while reducing global energy consumption
Guarantee a decent standard of living for all while reducing global energy consumption.
Fundamental changes in our economies are needed to ensure a decent standard of living for all in the fight against climate degradation, new research shows.
Governments need to dramatically improve public services, reduce income disparities, reduce resource extraction and abandon economic growth in rich countries, so that people around the world thrive while halving the world’s average consumption of energy. energy.
Without these fundamental changes, the study warns, we face an existential dilemma: in our current economic system, the energy savings needed to avoid catastrophic climate change could undermine living standards; while the improvement in the standard of living necessary to end material poverty would require large increases in energy consumption, which would further worsen climate degradation.
The study, led by the University of Leeds and published today (June 30, 2021) in Global Environmental Change, looked at what policies could enable countries to use less energy while providing the general population a “decent standard of living” – conditions that meet basic human needs. for food, water, sanitation, health, education and livelihoods.
Lead author Jefim Vogel, doctoral researcher at the Leeds Institute for Sustainable Development Research, explained: “A decent standard of living is crucial for human well-being, and the reduction of global consumption of energy is crucial to avoid catastrophic climate change. Truly sustainable development would mean providing a decent standard of living. for everyone at much lower and sustainable levels of energy and resource use.
“But in the current economic system, no country in the world is accomplishing this – not even close. It seems that our economic system is fundamentally out of alignment with the aspirations of sustainable development: it is unsuited to the challenges of the 21st century.”
Co-author Professor Julia Steinberger, University of Leeds and University of Lausanne in Switzerland, added: “The problem is that in our current economic system, all countries that achieve a decent standard of living use much more energy than can be sustained if we are to avoid dangerous climate degradation. ”
By 2050, global energy consumption must be as low as 27 gigajoules (GJ) of final energy per person to meet the Paris Agreement aspirations of limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C without s ‘lean on future speculative technologies, according to the Intergovernmental Panel. on climate change. This means that the current global average energy consumption (55 GJ per person) must be halved, while rich countries like the UK (81 GJ per person) or Spain (77 GJ per person) must cut their energy consumption. average energy consumption of the same. up to 65%, France (95 GJ per person) more than 70%, and the most energy-intensive countries like the USA (204 GJ per person) or Canada (232 GJ per person) must reduce to 90 %.
A major concern, however, is that such large reductions in energy use could hurt living standards, as currently only energy-intensive countries achieve a decent standard of living.
Even the most energy-efficient countries that achieve a decent standard of living – led by Argentina (53 GJ per person), Cyprus (55 GJ per person) and Greece (63 GJ per person) – use at least the double the “sustainable” level of 27 GJ per person, and many countries are still using significantly more.
On the other hand, in all countries whose energy consumption is less than 27 GJ per person, a large part of the population currently suffers from precarious living conditions – for example, in India (19 GJ per person) and Zambia (23 GJ per person), where at least half of the population is deprived of basic needs.
It seems that under the current economic system, reducing energy consumption in rich countries could adversely affect living standards, while improving living standards in less wealthy countries would require a large increase in energy consumption. energy and thus further exacerbate the degradation of the climate.
But this is not inevitable, shows the research team: fundamental changes in economic and social priorities could solve this dilemma of sustainable development.
Co-author Dr Daniel O’Neill, Leeds School of Land and Environment, explained: “Our results suggest that improving public services could enable countries to deliver a higher standard. decent living at lower energy consumption levels. Governments should offer free and premium services. quality public services in areas such as health, education and public transport.
“We have also found that a more equitable distribution of income is crucial to achieving a decent standard of living with low energy consumption. To reduce existing income disparities, governments could increase minimum wages, provide a universal basic income, and introduce a maximum income level. higher taxes on high incomes and lower taxes on low incomes. ”
Another critical factor, according to the research team, is affordable and reliable access to electricity and modern fuels. While this is already nearly universal in rich countries, it is still lacking for billions of people in low-income countries, highlighting significant infrastructure needs.
Perhaps the most crucial and perhaps the most surprising conclusion is that economic growth beyond moderate levels of wealth is detrimental to sustainable development aspirations.
Professor Steinberger explained: “Contrary to widely held assumptions, the evidence suggests that decent living standards do not require perpetual economic growth or high levels of wealth.
“In fact, economic growth in rich or even moderately rich countries is detrimental to the standard of living. impossible.”
“Another detrimental factor is the extraction of natural resources such as coal, oil, gas or minerals – these industries must be reduced quickly.”
Lead author Jefim Vogel concluded: “In short, we must abandon economic growth in rich countries, reduce resource extraction and prioritize public services, basic infrastructure and a fair distribution of income everywhere. .
“With these policies in place, rich countries could reduce their energy use and emissions while maintaining or even improving their standard of living; and less wealthy countries could achieve a decent standard of living and end material poverty without the need for large amounts of energy. This is good news for climate justice, good news for human well-being, good news for poverty eradication and good news for energy security.
“But we need to be clear that achieving this ultimately requires a broader and more fundamental transformation of our growth-dependent economic system. In my opinion, the most promising and integral vision of the transformation required is the idea of degrowth – it is an idea whose time has come. ”
The article, Socio-economic conditions for meeting low-energy human needs: an international analysis of social supply, is published in Global environmental change June 30, 2021.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.gloenvcha.2021.102287.
The research team included:
Jefim Vogel (Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK).
Julia K. Steinberger (Institute of Geography and Sustainability, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, Switzerland; Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK).
Daniel W. O’Neill (Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK).
William F. Lamb (Mercator Institute for Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany; Institute for Sustainability Research, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK).
Jaya Krishnakumar (Institute of Economics and Econometrics, Geneva School of Economics and Management, University of Geneva, Switzerland).
The study was initiated by the “Living Well Within Limits” project, led by Professor Julia Steinberger.
The research of Jefim Vogel and Julia Steinberger was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.
For more details and to request interviews, please contact Ian Rosser at the University of Leeds Press Service at [email protected]