The Link Between Climate Change Mitigation and Poverty Alleviation

Sadaf Sobhani
December 3, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017

Energy Consumption and Prosperity

Fig. 1: World Energy consumption vs. GDP. [6] (Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Human comfort, mobility, overall living conditions and prosperity are closely tied to energy consumption. Historically, the trends of energy utilization have been directly correlated to economic output and GDP (see Fig. 1). [1] However, current patterns in energy use (i.e. the overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels) threaten to alter the Earth's climate, thus linking the global efforts toward poverty alleviation and climate change mitigation. [1]

Improving Living Conditions For All

Today, over two billion people still lack access to one or more types of basic energy services, including electricity, clean-cooking fuels and an adequate means of transportation. [1] In September of 2015, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a historic resolution aimed to mobilize global efforts to improve the living conditions of every individual in the world by 2030. Resolution 70/1, known as Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, outlines this effort in a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). [2] Eliminating disparities in human progress encompasses several of these goals, at the heart of which is establishing energy access for all. Goal 7 specifically targets this objective to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy.

Impact on Climate Change

At the same time, policy makers around the world are looking for ways of curbing carbon emissions and the resulting rise in global temperatures. In December 2015, 195 countries adopted the new Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, aimed to keep warming below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, in accordance with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [3]

Although climate change mitigation necessitates universal action, there are large inequalities in the specific carbon footprints based on income categories. In 2010, the top 10% of income earners were responsible for 36% of global carbon emissions, contrasting to 13% from the bottom 50% of global income earners. Lifting the global poor to the next income level would have significant carbon implications, with a projected increase of 0.65 degrees C to the IPCC base run by the end of the century. [4]

Sustainable Development

"Climate justice demands that, with the little carbon space we still have, developing countries should have enough room to grow", India's Prime Minister Narenda Modi said at the start of the December meeting in Paris, summarizing the current challenge of economic development in a carbon constrained world. [5]

Access to energy continues to divide the haves from the have-nots, but alleviating this humanitarian crisis without incurring grave consequences on the planet requires a systematic effort to delink economic development from fossil fuels consumption. Progress toward this goal includes increased-efficiency technologies, de- carbonization strategies, and policies to promote innovation in lower-carbon energy sources as well as demand-side measures.

© Sadaf Sobhani. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Ahuja and M. Tatsutani, "Sustainable Energy For Developing Countries," Veolia Institute, SAPIENS 2, No. 1 (2009).

[2] "Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development," United National General Assembly, Resolution A/RES/70/1, 21 Oct 15.

[3] "Paris Agreement," United Nations, 2015.

[4] K. Hubacek, "Poverty Eradication in a Carbon Constrained World," Nat. Commun. 8, 912 (2017).

[5] P. L. Prestre, Global Ecopolitics Revisited: Towards a Complex Governance of Global Environmental Problems (Routledge, 2017).

[6] "Key World Energy Statistics," International Energy Agency, 2006.