As regulations in the United States and worldwide result in more stringent emissions standards than ever before, a popular refrain amongst oil and fossil fuel-based energy companies is that emissions restrictions harms the developing world disproportionately by limiting the capacity for building new infrastructures — a process that involves larger than average emissions and waste production.
However, a groundbreaking new study in the journal Nature Climate Change asserts that not only are homes without electricity responsible for a negligible amount of CO2 emissions (contrary to recent arguments by ExxonMobil), but that bringing electricity to these homes can be done without a major increase in emissions.
The study’s author, Shonali Pachauri of the Austrian International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, concludes that because the world’s electricity-free households currently use so little energy, their connection to the grid will make an absolutely minimal impact. New Scientist reports that Pachauri’s test case was India, where 400 million people live without electricity, more than anywhere else in the world. However, India has also connected 650 million people to the power grid in the past three decades, and Pachauri found that for these 650 million – located mostly in rural villages – their addition to the power grid only accounted for approximately 50 million tonnes of CO2 per year, a mere four percent of the aggregate increase of carbon emissions in India over that time period.
These findings support the increasingly vocal contingent of researchers that point to increased economic prosperity and affluence as a bigger culprit for carbon emissions increases than developing nations. When asked by New Scientist, Roger Pielke Jr at the University of Colorado in Boulder noted that, “We need only to look to China to see the consequences of rapid growth on emissions in a country of a billion-plus people.”