- A latest study has revealed that among the three developing countries, India, South Africa and Brazil, 15-93 percent of the Indian population lack various elements of decent living standards (DLS), measured as material means for wellbeing.
- It emphasised that to meet DLS for all by 2030, the target year for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, India would require 23 percent greater capital (and related energy) infusion.
- For India, the study stressed that the slowest progress is in gaining access to improved sanitation, clean cooking, minimum mobility services and air conditioning for thermal comfort.
About a third of the energy required for a decent living standard can be saved through scaling up public transport systems like bus and rail in emerging cities and pursuing energy-efficient public housing, finds a new study covering India, South Africa and Brazil.
The study estimated energy demands to meet basic needs for decent living and found out that in India, 15-93 percent of the population lacks decent living standards (DLS) – the material requirements that enable human well-being. To meet decent living standards, India would need 23 percent greater capital (and related energy) compared with the current business-as-usual scenario, the study found.
The study by researchers at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, Austria was recently published in the journal Nature Energy and looked at the energy demand for attaining DLS in India, Brazil and South Africa.
Noting the impact of energy-efficient housing and scaling up of public transport on achieving DLS for Indians, by 2030 (the target year for achieving Sustainable Development Goals), Narasimha D. Rao, lead author of the study explained that, “From a development perspective, more public transit means not only lower energy use but also significantly less air pollution, congestion and more equitable use of infrastructure since the poor and middle class use public transit more than the rich.”
“Energy-efficient housing can be as durable as conventional construction, and possibly cheaper. This would be pro-poor, and less carbon-intensive,” Rao, currently an Assistant Professor of Energy Systems, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, told Mongabay-India.
Noting that energy is as an “unavoidable input into the built environment to support human life,” the researchers found that their estimates of energy demand in these three countries “fall within these countries’ energy demand projections in global scenarios of climate stabilisation at two degree Celsius, but to different extents.”
Based on its analysis, the study pushes for “national policies that encourage public transportation and sustainable housing construction” for reducing energy needs.
Under the Paris Agreement 2015, the world is aiming to cut down global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times and limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Going beyond measuring poverty by income
The study pointed out that more people lack DLS than the number of income poor (as defined by the World Bank). “In India, 15-93 percent of the population lack various elements of DLS, in contrast to the international poverty line headcount of 20 percent.”
DLS, as per the authors, represents a “comprehensive, but minimum set of material requirements, so as to estimate a lower bound of energy needs.” Some of the dimensions of DLS consumption include “adequate nutrition, safe shelter with minimum space and thermal comfort, sufficient and in-house water for drinking and basic ablutions, improved sanitation, lighting, clean cooking fuels, cold storage, access to the Internet and broadcast media, and the use of motorized transport, including public transit. In addition, it includes at the national level the provision of health care services and education facilities to support both physical and social wellbeing.”
Among these, the study highlights a dimension of particular importance to public health and climate change — the need for space cooling to avoid heat-stress induced health effects. The lack of access to space cooling, or air conditioning, for thermal comfort affects up to 3.4 billion worldwide, including over 93 percent (over a billion) of Indians, about 45 percent of Brazilians and 20 percent of South Africans.
The study compared the proportion of the population lacking in each DLS dimension in India, with the population below international poverty line (World Bank) and found that in 2015, more than 50 percent of the population in India lacked DLS dimensions of iron intake, thermal comfort, water, sanitation and clean cooking. Projecting the data for 2030 based on recent trends, the scenario is expected to be better than 2015 in most cases, except in terms of housing. In Brazil and South Africa, thermal comfort, sanitation and mobility were the primary DLS dimensions the countries lacked.
If the current trends continue, deficits in India would persist in some measures beyond 2030, held the study while adding that the slowest progress is in gaining access to improved sanitation, clean cooking, minimum mobility services and air conditioning for thermal comfort. “In Brazil, gaps in access to improved sanitation would persist beyond 2030, whereas in South Africa, gaps in mobility and housing would also exist beyond 2030,” it added.
“For India in particular, the findings reveal the extent to which national energy demand mirrors inequities in living standards. Final energy use was 17.5 GJ per capita in 2015, of which, given the large gaps in DLS, about 7 GJ per capita likely served basic needs. Further, only 12–15 GJ per capita per year would be required to meet DLS for all (by 2030), and only a small fraction of that to build out the necessary infrastructure,” it said.
Rao cautioned that based on historical trends even by 2030 “India will not have provided DLS to a large share of Indians.”
When asked if energy required by India for everyone’s basic needs are within the commitments it made in its intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) in 2015, Rao, explained that the results of the study are a “partial picture of the economy” as it deals only with energy and not greenhouse gas emissions “ and only “focuses on the minimum threshold related to basic needs (and not the entire economy).”
“I have found strategies that are beneficial for development that can reduce energy demand growth (not of the whole economy, but of that share used for basic needs) by up to 25 percent – such as aggressively building public transit systems (bus and rail) in emerging cities, and durable public housing using efficient low-impact construction materials such as stabilised earth blocks,” said Rao.
“Decent living standards are a worthy aspirational goal but can the ‘conventional’ aspirations of hundreds of millions be changed?” questioned Karthik Ganesan, a research fellow at Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
Ganesan explained to Mongabay-India that it is a fine balancing act for the governments to provide decent living of standards for the whole population while ensuring that the energy demand growth is within limits. “India will be entering unchartered territory, given its economic standing and prevailing poverty, and ever-increasing income (and wealth) inequality.”
Greater capital required to achieve DLS for India
The study further noted that the DLS dimensions that dominate total energy needs are mobility (51-60 percent), the production and preparation of food (21-27 percent) and housing (5-12 percent), which includes thermal comfort (cooling and heating). “Health care provision, clothing, water and sanitation (together) and the remaining social wellbeing requirements (basic education and information and communication technologies) are of comparable magnitude, at 2-3 percent of the total each,” the study said.
It stressed that the construction energy requirements per capita are similar across the three countries, even though the gaps in decent living differ so widely between them. This is due to different circumstances related to mobility in each country, which dominates construction energy (45-66 percent across scenarios and countries).
“In Brazil, which is reliant on road transport, just the replacement of retiring stock of private vehicles dominates this investment. In India, the overall stock of transport infrastructure has to grow more than in Brazil, but with a higher share of public transit, which is less energy-intensive to build. In South Africa, paving unpaved roads in rural areas dominates its construction energy,” the study explained.
Asked if this means that for the same standard of living, India needs lower energy than Brazil, N.D. Rao explained that this finding is true principally for transport.
“Brazil’s mobility needs (again, just the minimum threshold, not all transport needs) require nearly as much energy as all of India’s energy demand for basic needs, using the same living standard. This is because Brazil is a car-dependent economy,” said Rao.
After mobility, the production and preparation of food comprise the largest share of annual energy needs, albeit to different extents in the three countries. “Energy demand for cooking (including stove and fuel production) would decrease with DLS to around two GJ (Gigajoule) per capita per year for all three countries, due to the replacement of inefficient and toxic solid-fuel combustion with cleaner and more efficient stoves and fuels such as liquid petroleum gas,” said the study.
The study explained that the “lifestyles people adopt as they rise out of poverty will influence their wellbeing and, through their material content, energy demand growth.” It said compared with the modest energy needs required to avoid heat stress in homes, a more luxurious use of air conditioning can entail energy demand of five times this minimum level.
Banner Image: Efficient public transport can be beneficial in tackling climate change as well compared to private cars. Photo by NOMAD/Flickr.