Poverty-energy-emissions pathways: recent trends and future sustainable development goals

Malerba, Daniele
External Publications (2019)

in: Energy for Sustainable Development 49 (April ), 109-124

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esd.2019.02.001

How feasible is it to eradicate poverty by 2030, whilst tackling climate change? What would be the impact of poverty eradication on emission levels and needed mitigation rates? The question is crucial as it addresses the two most critical challenges of our time. Despite the necessity to address both issues simultaneously, a significant gap exists in the empirical literature as poverty and environmental outcomes, including both the level of emissions and energy use per capita, have been researched separately. While it has been shown that no country has achieved high human development with sustainable environmental consumption, more research is needed to link emissions and energy use with poverty directly.

This study aims to fill this gap by summarizing the existing literature and by estimating the poverty-energy-emissions pathway across countries and time using country level data from 149 countries, representing the majority of global emissions, energy use and poverty. The findings show that current poverty-energy-emission pathways can be approximated by a generalized logistic function, with extreme poverty eradication associated with relatively low levels of per capita emissions and energy use. Second, the analysis demonstrates that a weak decoupling process, between emission levels and poverty, has taken place in the last two decades. It also shows, however, that this decoupling process is less evident when energy use (rather than emissions) is considered. Finally, through a comparison of different scenarios, the study indicates that the eradication of global poverty by 2030 following the estimated pathways would mean an increase in emissions significantly higher compared to the case in which poverty is eradicated through targeted policies.

The study concludes by underlining the need for a stronger decoupling. Nonetheless given the difficulty of achieving further reductions in energy intensity, and the barriers for a complete de-carbonization of the energy system, alternative development approaches are also proposed.

About the author


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