New research involving the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed that inequalities in China’s household carbon footprints and incomes risk undermining the country’s attempts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers say new policies are needed to improve living standards and encourage sustainable consumption if Chinese lifestyles are to move away from the current trajectory of carbon-intensive consumption patterns.
The study, published today in Nature Climate Change, quantified the carbon footprints of urban and rural households across 13 income groups (5 rural and 8 urban) for services, goods, food, mobility and housing.
The researchers, including Prof Dabo Guan of UEA’s School of International Development and Dr Jing Meng from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, found they are unequally distributed among the rich and poor due to differences in the scale and patterns of consumption. It comes as more people in China move from rural to urban areas – approximately 20 million a year – and increasingly aspire to and adopt westernised carbon and resource-intensive consumer lifestyles.
Using data for the most recent available years (2007-2012), the study’s authors found that due to income inequality the urban very rich income group, comprising 5% of the population, generated 19% of the total carbon footprint from household consumption in China, with 6.4 tons of CO2 per capita (tCO2/cap), nearly four times the national average of 1.7 tCO2/cap.
The rural population and urban poor, comprising 58% of population, produced 0.5–1.6 tCO2/cap. Between 2007 and 2012 the total footprint from households increased by 19%, with 75% of the increase due to growing consumption of the urban middle class and the rich.
In terms of energy consumption, there is a clear urban-rural divide in China. Rural households often use traditional and locally polluting energy carriers, such as straw, wood or coal, while electricity and natural gas are slowly penetrating these areas. In urban areas, modern energy carriers such as electricity, natural gas and LPG are dominant, and mobility, for example travelling by private car, has become one of main drivers of direct household energy use.
Prof Guan, a professor in climate change economics and the study’s lead UK author, said: “Our findings suggest that coming out of poverty is fairly carbon-intensive. This is because poorer households would tend to increase consumption of food, housing and general manufacturing products. Production of those goods are often emission intensive, strongly driven by China’s coal dominated energy mix.
“However, much more problematic are the growing carbon footprints of the urban middle class and the rich, who together produce 69% of the total Chinese household footprint and are rapidly westernising their lifestyles, meaning more resources are required and larger carbon footprints are created.
“Decarbonising the energy system via production-focused efficiency measures and energy-pricing reforms is essential. But developing carbon-free lifestyles beyond the current trajectory of increasing carbon footprints while becoming wealthy will require more substantial debates on the limits of green consumerism and the potential towards sustainable consumption.”
The researchers recommend that the long-term transformations required to create a net zero carbon society should be included in national discussions about the currently dominant mode of ecological modernization, green growth and conspicuous consumer lifestyles.
The carbon intensive lifestyles of the wealthy are being emulated, and serve as role models, while investments in infrastructure and cities are made
Prof Guan said: “The carbon intensive lifestyles of the wealthy are being emulated, and serve as role models, while investments in infrastructure and cities are made. Therefore, social and redistributive policies need to be understood as interacting with climate and energy policy, as well as with efforts towards enabling sustainable lifestyles for all.
“In a globally carbon-constrained future, high levels of wellbeing and human development need to be achieved while rapidly reducing total emissions. Reducing inequalities but preventing emission-intensive lifestyle westernisation in populous developing countries can be a step forward in contributing to global climate change mitigation. Consumers in developed countries can be role models in advocating sustainable consumption as a desirable way of living.”
The researchers conclude that cost-effectively using public and private funding for these societal goals will be crucial. They add that some countries, such as Costa Rica and Thailand, have already achieved a high level of human development with an average carbon footprint of 1 ton per capita, suggesting routes to habitable and potentially more sustainable societies exist.
They also suggest the methods used in the study could be useful for developing sustainable consumption programmes for those income groups which dominate the footprints of certain consumption areas, or for guiding policy design in achieving poverty alleviation while reducing emissions and increasing energy efficiency.
‘Unequal household carbon footprints in China’, Dominik Wiedenhofer, Dabo Guan, Zhu Liu, Jing Meng, Ning Zhang and Yi-Ming Wei, is published in Nature Climate Change.
7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption
Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.
This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?
Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.
New Technologies to Watch
These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:
- Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
- Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
- New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
- Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
- Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
- The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
- Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.
Making the Investment
All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.
Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis
Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.
Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?”
Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.
Tip #1: Focus & Determination
Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.
Tip #2: Minimize Spending
One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!
Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal
You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.
Investing in Clean Energy
One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.
With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.
The Future of Green Biz
As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.
Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.
In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!