Among all countries, the wealthiest 10% consume 20 times more energy than the bottom 10%, according to a new study published yesterday (March 16) in the journal Nature Energy.
Researchers at the University of Leeds examined energy inequality of income classes across 86 countries.
They combined European Union and World Bank data to calculate the distribution of energy footprints, as well as what energy-intensive goods and services different income groups tend to spend their money on.
The study shows that energy footprints grow with expenditure, and, as a consequence, are unequally distributed. As income increases, people spend more of their money on energy-intensive goods such as holidays and cars.
The researchers also highlighted the unequal distribution of energy consumption between countries, with 20% of UK citizens belonging to the top 5% of global energy consumers.
The poorest 20% of the UK’s population still consumers more than five times as much energy per person as the bottom 84% in India, a group numbering roughly one billion people.
The researchers have suggested that this inequality can be prevented through appropriate intervention.
For example, they suggest that energy-intensive consumption, such as flying and driving, which mostly occurs at high-incomes, could be regulated through energy taxes, while the energy footprint of heating and electricity could be reduced through public investment programmes in housing retrofit.
Lead author Yannick Oswald, PhD researcher in the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: ‘We found that none of the energy categories are free from energy inequality or benefit populations to an equal degree.
‘Transport-related consumption categories are among the least equal.
‘Without reducing the energy demand of these services, either through frequent-flyer levies, promoting public transport and limiting private vehicle use, or alternative technology such as electric vehicles, the study suggests that as incomes and wealth improve, our fossil fuel consumption in transport will skyrocket.’
Study co-author Julia Steinberger, leader of the Living Well Within Limits project aid: ‘There needs to be a serious consideration to how to change the vastly unequal distribution of global energy consumption to cope with the dilemma of providing a decent life for everyone while protecting climate and ecosystems.’
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