Climate change will likely increase future global energy demand, according to a new paper published on 24 June in Nature Communications (1). The authors predict climate change will increase global demand for energy by 11–27 per cent with modest warming and by 25–58 per cent with vigorous warming compared to baseline scenarios — energy demand only driven by population and income growth.
Energy use is the human system most affected by climate change. Extreme weather caused by global warming will increase the need for cooling during hot seasons and heating during winter. Moreover, warming temperatures will intensify the need for irrigation during warmer crop growing seasons.
The researchers from Austria, Italy, and the US performed a global analysis to estimate the shift in future energy demand by 2050 relative to today. Whereas previous studies focused on a single country or sector using just a few climate models, this is the first global analysis based on temperature projections from 21 climate models. In addition, they looked at both modest and high-warming scenarios, as well as population and economic projections for five socioeconomic scenarios.
Regions likely to experience the biggest increase in energy demand include large areas of the tropics, as well as southern Europe, China, and the US, mainly owing to increased energy consumption for cooling in the industry and services sector. Societies will adapt to climate change by increasing cooling in the summer months and increasing heating in the cold months. And therefore, use more electricity, which will have a direct effect on energy systems.
However, this poses a potential catch-22, coauthor Ian Sue Wing, a researcher of Boston University explains. Simply put, increased energy usage will lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions, thus, driving up energy consumption and its associated emissions.
The authors highlight three uncertain factors that will affect how much future global energy demand increases:
- future pathways of global greenhouse gas emissions
- accuracy of climate models in predicting hot and cold temperature extremes in various world regions
- actual changes in energy consumption patterns in regions based on population growth and income.
One crucial question is whether future warming will cause demand for energy to increase or decrease, says Sue Wing. Higher emissions due to increased energy consumption for space heating and cooling could make it harder and more costly to mitigate future warming.
The new findings will help predict energy market dynamics and ultimately, future changes in energy consumption and emissions. Although the results only outline initial impacts and do not consider future changes in fuel consumption or the potential producer and consumer responses that climate change may trigger around the world, the authors emphasise.
Those in the lowest-income countries will face the biggest challenges in adapting to changing energy requirements, with increases that could exceed 25 per cent. Not only financial challenges but difficulties due to unreliable — or a complete lack of — electricity supplies. Furthermore, exposure to extreme heat can lead to health problems and even, premature death.
Therefore, even modest levels of global warming should be taken seriously, particularly, in countries with the most vulnerable populations.
(1) van Ruijven, B.J., De Cian, E., and Sue Wing, I. Amplification of future energy demand growth due to climate change. Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-10399-3