Where is the sufficiency in energy scenarios?

Are behavioral and lifestyle changes in global energy scenario studies considered as an option to significantly reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in the future? This question was the focus of a study that I conducted together with colleagues Marie-Christine Gröne, Uwe Schneidewind, Hans-Jochen Luhmann, Johannes Venjakob and Benjamin Best and whose results were published last year in a contribution to the journal “Technological Forecasting and Social Change “has been published (Samadi et al. 2017). The motivation for the article was the realization that the topic “sufficiency” and the discussion about possible instruments for their promotion in the energy and climate policy discussion in Germany as well as in many other countries seem to play practically no role – and that despite the increasing urgency of resolute greenhouse gas emission reductions. You should not want to ‘write off’ an option, not even the sufficiency option.

In our article entitled “Sufficiency in Energy Scenario Studies: Taking the Potential Benefits of Lifestyle Changes Into Account,” we use a relatively broad definition of sufficiency, according to which sufficient behavior a) through the change of individual preferences, b) through cease changes in relative prices (eg through changes in tax rates) and c) through politically determined bids or prohibitions.

In the article, we argue that one reason for the widespread suppression of the sufficiency option in politics is probably the fact that the existing climate protection potentials of sufficiency measures are not or only insufficiently taken into account in policy advice. An important element of energy policy advice is energy scenarios that describe possible future developments in the energy system. Such scenarios, in our view, have the task of presenting to policy all the significant options that can be used to achieve key energy and climate policy goals.

In our study, we analyze three global energy scenarios from the following three studies:

  • energy [r] evolution – A Sustainable World Energy Outlook 2015 (Teske et al. 2015)
  • Energy Technology Perspectives 2015 (IEA 2015a)
  • World Energy Outlook 2015 (IEA 2015b)

We looked at the assumptions made there regarding future sufficiency measures.

Two of the scenarios are from two different publications of the International Energy Agency (IEA), another scenario from a study commissioned by u. a. by Greenpeace International (Teske et al., 2015). These three scenario studies or regularly updated series of studies play an important role in the international debate on energy and climate policy. Each study, which describes several scenarios, selected the most ambitious climate change scenario.

Our look at these scenarios showed that none of the climate change scenarios examined suggest that people will significantly change their consumption behavior over the next decades compared to a reference development (ie a development without significant climate change measures). In all three scenarios behavioral changes are only accepted in the transport sector. There is a certain shift towards more energy-efficient modes of transport compared to the respective reference scenarios. H. the share of bus and rail traffic increases, while the share of car traffic and air traffic decline. (Since a change in the mode of transport is accompanied by not inconsiderable changes in behavior, we define the shift to less energy- and CO 2 -intensive modes of transport than a sufficiency measure.)

In addition to the modal shift, two of the studies, in their most ambitious climate change scenarios, assume that passenger traffic performance can be reduced to some extent compared to the respective reference scenario.


The study commissioned by Greenpeace and others, in its most ambitious scenario – in comparison to its reference scenario – also explicitly assumes the future purchase of smaller cars. Similarly, one of the two IEA studies (IEA 2015a) states that at least one way to make road passenger transport more efficient is to switch to smaller and / or less powerful vehicles.

The following table provides an overview of the types of behavioral and lifestyle changes that are considered in the three ambitious climate change scenarios analyzed. It also contrasts these changes with examples of other types of behavioral and lifestyle changes that, according to various studies (eg Faber et al., 2012, Hallström et al., 2015, van Sluisveld et al 2016, Stehfest et al., 2009), address energy needs and related CO 2 emissions. Could significantly reduce emissions.

The table shows that in the three analyzed scenarios, only a small part of the conceivable behavioral and lifestyle changes that could be used for climate protection were taken into account. The scenarios are based exclusively on (limited) behavioral and lifestyle changes in the transport sector, mostly in the form of modal shift. The impact of these changes on the total CO 2 emissions of the energy sector is limited. In the IEA study Energy Technology Perspectives 2015 z. For example, modal shifts and traffic reductions in the most ambitious scenario lead to CO 2 emission reductions of around 2.5 Gt in 2050 (compared to the reference scenario). This represents only 6% of total emissions reductions in the energy sector (41 Gt) in 2050. In contrast, technological solutions in the transport sector (more efficient vehicles and low-carbon fuels) lead to an almost threefold reduction in annual emissions (around 7 Gt).

The analysis in our article shows that, at least on a global scale, the most well-known energy scenario studies largely hide the climate protection potential of sufficiency. Against the background of the above-mentioned importance of comprehensive consideration of relevant climate protection strategies in energy scenarios, we therefore recommend scenario developers or clients of scenario studies to focus much more on the climate protection potentials of far-reaching behavioral and lifestyle changes, for example in the form of separate “sufficiency” measures. scenarios “. In addition to exclusively or predominantly technical progress setting scenarios, scenarios would also be presented which rely heavily on sufficiency. Within such scenarios, implementation requirements and challenges for more sufficiency could also be explored and discussed. On such a broader basis, politics and society could then decide which measures should actually be taken to achieve the climate protection goals.

In our article, we also refer to various scenario studies that do just that (eg Berghof et al., 2005, Johansson et al., 2012, Sessa and Ricci 2014, UNEP 2002, UNEP 2007, WEC 2013). Unfortunately, in the best-known global energy scenarios (as well as in Germany’s best-known national energy scenarios, as we have examined in other studies), the identification of the climate-protection potential of sufficiency is still largely a “blind spot” that should urgently be addressed in the future.