The ability to enjoy a high standard of living without a drastic increase in global energy consumption should be available to everyone. A new study published on Monday in Nature Energy reported that global warming can be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius via unprecedented improvements in the energy efficiency of everyday activities.
According to the new research, conducted by an international team of scientists from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, the dramatic transformations in the way we move around, heat and cool our homes, and buy and use devices and appliances in our cities can help raise living standards in the global South to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals while also remaining within the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The study is the first ever to show how the 1.5 degrees Celsius target can be reached without relying on unproven technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (CCS), which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and buries it, showing that improved living standards for all need not come with a large increase in energy demand at the expense of the global environment.
The study is one of the first integrated analyses of economic, environmental, and energy systems showing how sustainable development goals can be met without overtaxing planetary boundaries.
“Our analysis shows how a range of new social, behavioural, and technological innovations, combined with strong policy support for energy efficiency and low-carbon development, can help reverse the historical trajectory of ever-rising energy demand,” said Arnulf Grubler, lead author of the study and IIASA acting programme director.
The study’s co-author, Charlie Wilson, from IIASA and also the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in the UK, added, “a rapid downsizing of the global energy system between now and 2050 makes it much more feasible to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewables and electricity to provide for development needs while limiting the impacts of climate change.”
According to the paper, the team of researchers examined a wide range of innovations that could help in reducing emissions if they became mainstream. They identified a number of key innovations; for example, shared and on-demand fleets of more energy efficient electric vehicles with increased occupancy can reduce global energy demand for transport by 60% by 2050 while reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
Single digital devices, such as smartphones, serving a wide range of functions, combined with younger generations’ preferences for accessing services instead of owning goods, can limit the otherwise explosive growth in global energy demand to a mere 15% by 2050 for a digital economy with over twice the number of devices than are in use today.