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A low energy demand scenario for meeting the 1.5 °C target and sustainable development goals without negative emission technologies


Scenarios that limit global warming to 1.5 °C describe major transformations in energy supply and ever-rising energy demand. Here, we provide a contrasting perspective by developing a narrative of future change based on observable trends that results in low energy demand. We describe and quantify changes in activity levels and energy intensity in the global North and global South for all major energy services. We project that global final energy demand by 2050 reduces to 245 EJ, around 40% lower than today, despite rises in population, income and activity. Using an integrated assessment modelling framework, we show how changes in the quantity and type of energy services drive structural change in intermediate and upstream supply sectors (energy and land use). Down-sizing the global energy system dramatically improves the feasibility of a low-carbon supply-side transformation. Our scenario meets the 1.5 °C climate target as well as many sustainable development goals, without relying on negative emission technologies.

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The financial contribution from the Research Institute for Innovative Technologies for the Earth (RITE) to this research is gratefully acknowledged. C.W. was also supported by ERC Starting Grant no. 678799. N.D.R. was supported by ERC Starting Grant no. 637462. J.R. acknowledges the support of the Oxford Martin School Visiting Fellowship Programme. N.B. acknowledges the post-doctoral grant (ref.SFRH/BPD/91183/2012) received from Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

Author information

A.G. coordinated the project. A.G. and C.W. co-designed the study and co-wrote the initial draft manuscript and Methods. A.G., C.W., N.B., B.B.-K., V.K., D.M., N.D.R., K.R., J.R. and S.D.S. performed technical analyses of energy demand by sector, and contributed to sections of the manuscript, Methods and Supplementary Information. J.C. contributed to the technical analysis of the industry sector and to the Supplementary Information. K.R. coordinated the MESSAGE model runs performed by D.M. and V.K. with support from O.F., F.G., M.G. and D.H. P.H. coordinated the GLOBIOM model runs performed by P.H., S.F., and H.V. G.K., P.R. and W.S. contributed the air pollution and health impact quantifications. The figures were drafted by J.R., S.D.S. and C.W. All the authors contributed to analysing and interpreting the scenario results and commented on the manuscript, Methods and Supplementary Information.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Arnulf Grubler.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–12, Supplementary Figures 1–26, Supplementary Tables 1–33, Supplementary References

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Decomposition analysis of determinants of LED final global energy demand for end-use services and upstream sectors.
Fig. 2: Example of reduced energy demand through digitalization and device convergence.
Fig. 3: LED scenario in historical context and in comparison to the literature.
Fig. 4: Dynamics of change in global final energy structure historically and in the LED scenario.
Fig. 5: Projected global final energy, low-carbon supply and non-biomass renewables in the LED scenario.
Fig. 6: Global SDG benefits of the LED scenario.