Energy consumption is highly unequally distributed

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Wealth and energy consumption are highly unequally distributed worldwide, according to a new calculation. The top ten percent consume 20 times more energy than the bottom ten.

The higher the income, the more energy-intensive people’s behaviour – they are then more likely to book a flight vacation or own a car. Accordingly, the top ten percent use 187 times more energy for their vehicles than the bottom ten, researchers from the University of Leeds report in the journal Nature Energy. They have linked data from the European Union and the World Bank and calculated an “energy footprint” for 86 countries – excluding Austria.

Large country differences
Transportation is among the areas with the most significant disparity. According to the researchers, the top ten percent consume more than half of all energy for mobility. Most of that is still derived from fossil fuels and fuels global warming.

The situation is somewhat less unequal regarding residential energy, such as that needed for cooking and heating. Here, the top ten percent “only” consume a third of the total energy.

The study also points to significant differences between countries: While, for example, 40 percent of people in Germany and 20 percent in the UK are among the world’s heaviest energy consumers (i.e., among the top five percent), the figure is just two percent in China and only 0.02 percent in India. Even the poorest fifth of the UK consumes five times more energy than 84 percent of Indians – nearly a billion people.

Antidote: energy taxes and home retrofits
“Growth and growing consumption remain the central goals of policymakers and business,” study co-author Anne Owen says in a University of Leeds release.

“Transitioning to a carbon-neutral energy supply will be made easier by reducing demand, meaning key consumers will play an important role in reducing their excessive energy use.” If they don’t change their behaviour, the energy footprint will double by 2050 compared to 2011, even if efficiency increases.

The researchers’ advice: Taxes on energy-intensive sectors such as flights and car transportation and massive investment in home renovations.

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