There is a very strong correlation between the global energy consumption, the world gross domestic product and carbon dioxide emissions. This correlation makes the shift away from fossil fuels very difficult as it conflicts with economic growth.
How long can economic growth continue and what are the limiting factors? Zenon Research is looking at energy and climate-driven limits.
Hopefully, thanks to proactive or reactive changes, the world will eventually achieve carbon neutrality at some point. However, even if we successfully transition to a carbon-free economy, it does not mean that Earth’s economy will be able to keep growing endlessly.
There are of course many reasons why the world’s economic growth could come to a stop or even reverse. For instance, there is a question on how far the biosphere can absorb pollution and waste from human activities. We might also at some point face limits on our ability to access and recycle the material resources necessary to support a our economy. Some people argue that technology progress could also face diminishing returns with most low hanging fruits already behind us.
All economic activities consume energy. This implies that economic growth is linked to a growing consumption of energy. In a relatively near future, as hopefully the world starts to converge towards carbon neutrality, other factors might limit the economy.
The vast majority of solar irradiation currently remains untapped and leaves in theory a huge potential for the future. However, the associated spatial footprint and required infrastructure might put serious limits on energy we can harness directly or indirectly from incoming sun radiations. This means that if we want to keep growing our economy, we will have to include in the mix new sources of energy.
Our ability to successfully transition away from fossil fuels and towards low-carbon energy sources depends on technical, political and economical factors.
Will we be able to transition our energy system fast enough to meet climate objectives while simultaneously growing energy consumption?
It is well recognized that global surface temperature increase related to climate change will have significant impacts on the Earth system. However, there is considerable debate about its actual impact on human societies, and notably on the world economy.
Can climate change put an upper limit on the world economy?