Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Energy requirements for decent living in India, Brazil and South Africa


For over 30 years, researchers have tried to estimate how much energy societies require to provide for everyone’s basic needs. This question gains importance with climate change, because global scenarios of climate stabilization assume strong reductions in energy demand growth in developing countries. Here, we estimate bottom-up the energy embodied in the material underpinnings of decent living standards for India, Brazil and South Africa. We find that our estimates fall within these countries’ energy demand projections in global scenarios of climate stabilization at 2 °C, but to different extents. Further, national policies that encourage public transportation and sustainable housing construction will be critical to reduce these energy needs. The results of this study offer a benchmark to compare countries’ mitigation efforts and technology transfer arrangements to assess the extent to which they address development priorities in an equitable manner.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Gaps in decent living standards.
Fig. 2: Energy requirements.
Fig. 3: Construction energy requirements.
Fig. 4: Operational energy requirements.
Fig. 5: Comparison of energy demand scenarios.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data Availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Publicly available data used in the analysis include nationally representative household consumption expenditure surveys in India50, Brazil51 and South Africa52, and the Ecoinvent 3 (ref. 53) and EXIOBASE 3 (ref. 40) databases. Further details available in Supplementary Note 4.

Code Availability

The code used to manipulate the data and generate the results is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


  1. Goldemberg, J., Johansson, T. B., Reddy, A. N. & Williams, R. H. Basic needs and much more with one kilowatt per capita. Ambio 14, 190–200 (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Rogelj, J. et al. Energy system transformations for limiting end-of-century warming to below 1.5 °C. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 519–527 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Riahi, K. et al. The shared socioeconomic pathways and their energy, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions implications: an overview. Glob. Environ. Change 42, 153–168 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Grubler, A. et al. A low energy demand scenario for meeting the 1.5 °C target and sustainable development goals without negative emission technologies. Nat. Energy 3, 515–527 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Kriegler, E. et al. Fossil-fueled development (SSP5): An energy and resource intensive scenario for the 21st century. Glob. Environ. Change 42, 297–315 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Rao, N. D. & Pachauri, S. Energy access and living standards: some observations on recent trends. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 025011 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Steckel, J. C., Brecha, R. J., Jakob, M., Strefler, J. & Luderer, G. Development without energy? Assessing future scenarios of energy consumption in developing countries. Ecol. Econ. 90, 53–67 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Steinberger, J. K. & Roberts, J. T. From constraint to sufficiency: the decoupling of energy and carbon from human needs, 1975–2005. Ecol. Econ. 70, 425–433 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Lamb, W. F. & Rao, N. D. Human development in a climate-constrained world: what the past says about the future. Glob. Environ. Change 33, 14–22 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Smil, V. Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects (Praeger, 2010).

  11. Ribas, A., Lucena, A. F. P. & Schaeffer, R. Bridging the energy divide and securing higher collective well-being in a climate-constrained world. Energy Policy 108, 435–450 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Arto, I., Capellán-Pérez, I., Lago, R., Bueno, G. & Bermejo, R. The energy requirements of a developed world. Energy Sustain. Dev. 33, 1–13 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Energy for a Sustainable Future (The Secretary General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, 2010).

  14. Chakravarty, S. & Tavoni, M. Energy poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation: is there a trade off? Energy Econ. 40, S67–S73 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Rao, N. D. & Min, J. Less global inequality can improve climate outcomes. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Change 9, e513 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Rao, N. D. & Min, J. Decent living standards: material prerequisites for human wellbeing. Soc. Indic. Res. 138, 225–244 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Alkire, S. & Santos, M. E. Measuring acute poverty in the developing world: robustness and scope of the multidimensional poverty index. World Dev. 59, 251–274 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Doyal, L. & Gough, I. Theory of Human Need (Macmillan, 1991).

  19. Mastrucci, A., Byers, E., Pachauri, S. & Rao, N. D. Improving the SDG energy poverty targets: residential cooling needs in the Global South. Energy Build. 186, 405–415 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. World Bank, Poverty: Overview (2018).

  21. Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All (UN Sustainable Energy for All, 2018).

  22. Ahmad, S., Pachauri, S. & Creutzig, F. Synergies and trade-offs between energy-efficient urbanization and health. Environ. Res. Lett. 12, 114017 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Mastrucci, A. & Rao, N. D. Bridging India’s housing gap: lowering costs and CO2 emissions. Build. Res. Inf. 47, 8–23 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Rao, N. D. et al. Healthy, affordable and climate-friendly diets in India. Glob. Environ. Change 49, 154–165 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. McMichael, A. J., Powles, J. W., Butler, C. D. & Uauy, R. Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. Lancet 370, 1253–1263 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. FAOSTAT Statistical Database (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1997).

  27. Cameron, C. et al. Policy trade-offs between climate mitigation and clean cook-stove access in South Asia. Nat. Energy 1, 15010 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Creutzig, F. et al. Towards demand-side solutions for mitigating climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 260–263 (2018).

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  29. Mastrucci, A. & Rao, N. D. Decent housing in the developing world: reducing life-cycle energy requirements. Energy Build. 152, 629–642 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Ryen, E. G., Babbitt, C. W. & Williams, E. Consumption-weighted life cycle assessment of a consumer electronic product community. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 2549–2559 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Creutzig, F. et al. Beyond technology: demand-side solutions for climate change mitigation. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 41, 173–198 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Adoption of the Paris Agreement FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1 (UNFCCC, 2015).

  33. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Outcome of the Work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (Durban, 2011);

  34. Klinsky, S. et al. Why equity is fundamental in climate change policy research. Glob. Environ. Change 44, 170–173 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. After Paris: Inequality, Fair Shares and the Climate Emergency (Civil Society Equity Review, 2017).

  36. Zimm, C. & Nakicenovic, N. What are the implications of the Paris Agreement for inequality? Clim. Policy (2019).

  37. Pauliuk, S., Arvesen, A., Stadler, K. & Hertwich, E. G. Industrial ecology in integrated assessment models. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 13–20 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Volkart, K., Mutel, C. L. & Panos, E. Integrating life cycle assessment and energy system modelling: methodology and application to the world energy scenarios. Sustain. Prod. Consum. 16, 121–133 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Miller, R. E. & Blair, P. D. Intput-Output Analysis: Foundations and Extensions (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).

  40. Stadler, K. et al. EXIOBASE 3: developing a time series of detailed environmentally extended multi-regional input-output tables. J. Ind. Ecol. 22, 502–515 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Finnveden, G. et al. Recent developments in life cycle assessment. J. Environ. Manag. 91, 1–21 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Islam, S., Ponnambalam, S. G. & Lam, H. L. Review on life cycle inventory: methods, examples and applications. J. Clean. Prod. 136, 266–278 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Min, J. & Rao, N. D. Estimating uncertainty in household energy footprints. J. Ind. Ecol. 22, 1307–1317 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Muthayya, S. et al. The global hidden hunger indices and maps: an advocacy tool for action. PLoS One 8, e67860 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. EnergyPlus v. 8.5 (US Department of Energy, 2016);

  46. Rao, N. D. & Ummel, K. White goods for white people? Drivers of electric appliance growth in emerging economies. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 27, 106–116 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. McCollum, D. L. et al. Energy investment needs for fulfilling the Paris Agreement and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Nat. Energy 3, 589–599 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Guidance Notes for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Addressing Uncertainties (IPCC, 2005);

  49. O’Neill, B. C. et al. A new scenario framework for climate change research: the concept of shared socioeconomic pathways. Clim. Change 122, 387–400 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Household Consumption Expenditure Rd 68, 2011-12 (National Sample Survey Office, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, 2012).

  51. Consumer Expenditure Survey - POF 2008-09 (Instituto Brasilieiro de Geografia e Estatistica, 2009).

  52. Income and Expenditure Survey 2010-11 (Statistics South Africa, 2011).

  53. Wernet, G. et al. The ecoinvent database version 3 (part I): overview and methodology. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 1218–1230 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors were supported by European Research Council Starting Grant 637462.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



N.D.R. designed the study; N.D.R., J.M. and A.M. conducted the analysis and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Narasimha D. Rao.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary methods, Figures 1–8, Tables 1–25, Notes 1–4 and refs. 1–67.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Rao, N.D., Min, J. & Mastrucci, A. Energy requirements for decent living in India, Brazil and South Africa. Nat Energy 4, 1025–1032 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing