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Publication Date
24 June 2019

Amplification of Energy Demand Growth in a Future Climate

Global energy use is likely to grow substantially even with moderate warming.
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Energy is critical for human wellbeing and continued economic development and is also one of the human systems most directly influenced by changes in climate. Previous studies have tended to focus on a single country, world region or economic sector (e.g., households), and rely on projections from a small number of climate models. This study provides the first comprehensive estimates of the way in which anticipated mid-century climate change will affect the demand for energy across the world. Using historical data on income, population, energy use, and temperature exposures for many countries over several decades, we estimate a statistical model of the response of demand for three fuels (petroleum, natural gas, electricity) in four sectors (agriculture, industry, commerce and households) to hot and cold days (average temperatures >27.5°C and <12.5°C). The model is coupled with gridded daily temperatures from 21 climate model simulations of the current period and the decade of the 2050s under scenarios of modest (RCP 4.5) and vigorous (RCP 8.5) warming. 


Compared to baseline scenarios in which demand is driven by population and income growth alone, scenarios for a 2050 climate increases 2050 global energy use by 11-27% with modest warming, and 25-58% with vigorous warming. Large areas of the tropics, southern Europe, China, and the USA, experience the largest increases. A key driver of rising demand is electricity for cooling, especially in industry and commerce. The paper explores key uncertainties that affect these results, including the future path of GHG emissions, differences in climate models’ spatial projections of temperature extremes, and countries’ baseline patterns of energy consumption under different socioeconomic futures. 


Future energy demand is likely to increase due to climate, but the magnitude depends on many interacting sources of uncertainty. We combine econometrically estimated responses of energy use to income, hot and cold days with future projections of spatial population and national income under five socioeconomic scenarios and temperature increases around 2050 for two emission scenarios simulated by 21 Earth System Models (ESMs). Here we show that, across 210 realizations of socioeconomic and climate scenarios, vigorous (moderate) warming increases global climate-exposed energy demand before adaptation around 2050 by 25–58% (11–27%), on top of a factor 1.7–2.8 increase above present-day due to socioeconomic developments. We find broad agreement among ESMs that energy demand rises by more than 25% in the tropics and southern regions of the USA, Europe and China. Socioeconomic scenarios vary widely in the number of people in low-income countries exposed to increases in energy demand.

Point of Contact
John Weyant
Stanford University
Funding Program Area(s)