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Energy and emissions thresholds for providing decent living standards to all

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DecentLivingEnergy (Energy and emissions thresholds for providing decent living standards to all)

Reporting period: 2016-12-01 to 2019-05-31

The project set out to answer an important policy question: what are the energy requirements of poverty eradication and what impact will this eradication have on climate change? Answering this question required a new methodology to be developed from existing tools in energy research. Over the course of four years, I, with my team, successfully developed this methodology and found answers for India, Brazil and South Africa with new insights for climate and energy policy.

The first major contribution of this research was to develop a comprehensive and universal living standards indicator that represents the material prerequisites for a decent life for all. This dashboard of indicators recognizes the universality of the human condition, but also allows for its customization to cultural and context-specific conditions like climate. This dashboard can be used to assess other minimum resource requirements, beyond energy.

Using the decent living standards (DLS) as an anchor, we developed a methodology to link the related material consumption to energy demand throughout the economy. We derived, for the first time, the energy demand for eradicating poverty in India, Brazil and South Africa, and the potential to reduce this demand growth through climate-friendly development policies, such as efficient housing, public transport and sustainable diets. Overall, we find that national energy demand in these countries is driven more by affluence than by basic needs.We also learned that changes in vegetarian diets towards healthier grains and diversity in foods have the potential to improve nutrition and reduces environmental stresses such as water and climate change. In all three countries, transport demand dominates energy needs for DLS (over half) – if future cities were to provide public transit so that people purchased less cars, energy needs for development could reduce by up to 25 percent.

These findings alerts policymakers to the need for a social transformation to distribute more equitably the benefits of energy to support an energy system transformation.

The link we have established between consumption and energy demand has been recognized as an important direction for future climate and energy research. Already integrated assessment for climate change is moving in this direction, namely to link energy-economy models of future socioeconomic futures to industrial ecology tools that provide a better representation of the material basis for industrial systems. My research provides the further link from energy systems to human wellbeing. This allows future climate research to also break its dependence on GDP as a metric for societal progress.
WS1 was completed, during which two expert workshops were held. On the basis of this expert elicitation and data analysis, we developed for the first time a universal standard for the material requirements for human well-being ("Decent Living Standards" - DLS). This work has been published in Social Indicators Research.
In WS2, we have completed developing the methodology for estimating the energy requirements for a Decent Living Standard (WS2a), and applied it to the case of India. This case serves as a proof of concept. The results were presented at the first dissemination workshop in January 2017 in Delhi, India, as planned, at the end of the first 18 months. This methodology is already being rolled out to other countries. We are mid-way through the process with Brazil, and part way through S. Africa.
In WS3, we have written two manuscripts on the evolution of different components of Decent Living, including electric appliances, and basic utilities. One paper, entitled ' 'Energy access and living standards: some trends and observations', has been published in Environmental Research Letters. The work on appliances, which has been published in Energy Research and Social Science, highlights the importance of affordability, culture and market constraints in appliance adoption in India, Brazil, and South Africa.
Overall, we expect seven publications from the first half of the project (3 already published, 2 in advanced stages or review, and 2 in revision).
The work on Decent Living Standards (DLS) for the first time comprehensively lays out the material requirements for human well-being. This can be used to further assess adequacy of global resources to achieve human wellbeing, and to estimate (using prevailing market prices) poverty thresholds in countries.
The analysis in WS2 provides for the first time energy requirements for development goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and provides the potential for low-carbon pathways to raise living standards in developing countries. We show, for instance, that about half of the energy use in India on an annual basis would be sufficient to support basic living standards, once the infrastructure is built to meet gaps in decent living.
In WS3, we have gained new insights on the penetration of energy-intensive household appliances and their drivers in different countries. We show that, contrary to conventional projection methods, income alone does not explain uptake of appliances. Affordability, wealth and other factors also matter.
We expect that the analytical framework created in the first phase can be replicated to other countries, and be used as an interactive, dynamic policy tool to evaluate the energy and emission implications of different development targets.
Overview of the project and team