Wealthiest consume 20 times more energy than poorer consumers

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A new study published in Nature Energy revealed that among all countries, the wealthiest 10 per cent consume a colossal 20 times more energy than those in the bottom 10 per cent. This came from a study run by researchers at the University of Leeds, who examined energy inequality of income classes across 86 counties.

Combining European Union and World Bank data, they were able to calculate the distribution of energy footprints. As well as this, they were able to determine the energy-intensive goods and services that different income groups often spend their money on.

The study demonstrated a correlation of energy footprints with expenditure. These were shown to be unequally distributed. As income increases, more money is spent on energy and energy-intensive goods such as holidays and cars.

Researchers also noted the unequal distribution of energy consumption between countries, with 20 per cent of UK citizens sitting in the top 5 per cent of global energy consumers. The poorest 20 per cent of the UK’s population still consumes more than five times as much energy per person as the bottom 84 per cent in India.

It has been suggested that this inequality can be prevented through appropriate intervention. This could be an approach such as regulating energy-intensive consumption (flying, driving, etc) through taxes. At the same time, the energy footprint of heating or electricity could be reduced through public investment programmes in housing retrofit.

Speaking to Environmental Journal, 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 said: “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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