Global Energy and Carbon Intensity Continue to Decline

Haibing Ma | Dec 15, 2014


Global energy intensity, defined as worldwide total energy consumption divided by gross world product, decreased 0.19 percent in 2013.1 That may not seem all that impressive, but considering that energy intensity increased steeply between 2008 and 2010, this small decline continues a much-needed trend toward lower energy intensity, which basically means that people are using energy more efficiently.2

While a growing economy generally correlates with growing absolute energy use, energy intensity may well decline. During the 1970s, this is generally what happened. There were small bounces in 1975 and 1976, however, between the twin oil crises of 1973 and 1979.3 (See Figure 1.) During an energy supply crisis, consuming nations tend to drastically restrict their energy consumption. But when the crisis eases, even if only temporarily, energy demand rises as efforts to boost the economy take hold.

Energy and Carbon Intensity Figure 1

In the 1990s, industrial economies started to turn to a new growth paradigm that relied heavily on service sectors. This “knowledge-based economy” is much less energy-intensive than the economic model that most nations adopted during industrialization. As a result, global energy intensity decreased 13.72 percent during the decade—the largest drop in the past 50 years.4

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