Decoupling Between Human Development and Energy Consumption within Footprint Accounts
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Historically, the growth of energy consumption has fuelled human development, but this approach is no longer socially and environmentally sustainable. Recent analyses suggest that some individual countries have responded to this issue successfully by decoupling Total Primary Energy Supply from human development increase. However, globalisation and international trade have allowed high-income countries to outsource industrial production to lower income countries, thereby increasingly relying on foreign energy use to satisfy their own consumption of goods and services. Accounting for the import of embodied energy in goods and services, this study proposes an alternative estimation of the Decoupling Index based on the Total Primary Energy Footprint rather than Total Primary Energy Supply. An analysis of 126 countries over the years 2000–2014 demonstrates that previous studies based on energy supply highly overestimated decoupling. Footprint-based results, on the other hand, show an overall decrease of the Decoupling Index for most countries (93 out of 126). There is a reduction of the number of both absolutely decoupled countries (from 40 to 27) and relatively decoupled countries (from 29 to 17), and an increase of coupled countries (from 55 to 80). Furthermore, the study shows that decoupling is not a phenomenon characterising only high-income countries due to improvements in energy efficiency, but is also occurring in countries with low Human Development Index and low energy consumption. Finally, six exemplary countries have been identified, which were able to maintain a continuous decoupling trend. From these exemplary countries, lessons have been identified in order to boost the necessary global decoupling of energy consumption and achieved welfare.