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Research Study: The Energy Requirements of a Developed World, Energy for Sustainable Development Journal, May, 2016

The study called, “The Energy Requirements of a Developed World,” is among the most important climate change research studies conducted by a group of Spaniards. The researchers come from different institutions, ranging from environmentalists, engineers, and economists from the Basque Center for Climate Change and the Universidad del País Vasco respectively. This variation in academic backgrounds means that the argument presented in the publication is relevant to all fields of study.

The authors begin by stating that in order to truly understand the energy use of a country, we must take into consideration the international market of producing, buying, and selling goods. It is increasingly commonplace for a country that is considered “developed” to produce goods abroad in a “developing” country and then sell and consume them domestically. In other words, a developed country is consuming goods produced in a developing country. In this case, the developing country’s carbon emissions has increased while the developed country’s carbon emissions dropped even though the developed country is the one requiring that energy. The same is true with tourism. When citizens of a developed country visit a developing country and consume energy and transportation, those emissions will appear as though they were produced by the developing country. The article goes on to say that the total energy footprint produced globally is a more accurate depiction of any given country’s energy consumption than simply looking at the emissions produced within its territorial boundaries. This distinction that the article makes between a nation’s total energy footprint and the emissions produced domestically is important given the emphasis that the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement put on a country’s emission level. In order for the Paris Agreement to be truly effective, it must take into account the international markets and require participating nations to reduce their emissions domestically as well as abroad.

The authors then analyze the relationship between each country’s energy footprint and its human development index, and conclude that there is indeed a correlation between a higher level of energy use and a higher standard of living. The authors calculate what amount of energy use would be required to achieve a “developed world standard” for all countries and find that it would call for a 33% increase based on data from 2012. Taking into consideration the expected continued population increase, it would take a 70% increase to sustain a high standard of living for the global population in 2050.

This study is important for Spain, especially given its attempt to climb out of economic recession. First, Spain is already forecasted to have difficulty meeting its future emissions targets, and must be cautious with regard to its energy demands and consumption. Second, Spain’s ability to get ahead financially may depend on being able to produce goods cheaply. Since goods can be produced cheaply in developing countries, energy that is used for Spain’s ultimate consumption may be reflected in the emissions of a developing country. If the total energy footprint of countries participating in the Paris Agreement comes under evaluation, Spain will not be any farther ahead than it currently is in achieving its target emissions, especially since it has one of the biggest consumer populations in the European Union. Finally, given Spain’s economic crisis and its recent political crisis, its population has seen just a small fraction of what life is like for those living in countries with low standards of living. The high unemployment rate and lack of functioning government should make the Spanish population sensitive to the issue faced by the populations of developing countries. It is not only in Spain’s best interest but also in the best interest of the global population for Spain to reduce its consumption.

Learn More

“The Energy Requirements of a Developed World,” Energy for Sustainable Development Volume 33. August 2016.


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