At low to middle incomes, energy use is strongly correlated with how much money we have. As people get richer they tend to use more energy. They install lighting in their homes; get a washing machine; air conditioning or heating; maybe even a car.
But many countries have shown that at higher levels of income energy use is not increasing further. A number of rich countries have managed to decouple economic growth from energy use: GDP has increased while energy use has stayed the same, or even declined.
One example of this is Sweden, which is shown in the chart. This chart shows its percentage change in GDP and energy use per capita from 1995. We see that its GDP has increased substantially. While its energy use has barely changed at all. You can see data without per capita adjustments here.
It’s not just Sweden. A number of rich countries have managed to achieve this. The UK, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland are some examples of where energy use has remained flat or even declined. You can see the trends for these countries by using the “Change country” button on the interactive chart.
It would be wrong to assume that rich countries have only achieved this by offshoring manufacturing overseas – which would simply mean that other countries are consuming this energy on their behalf. Consumption-based energy use – which adjusts for the energy used to produce the goods we import and export – has also plateaued or fallen in many countries. We see this clearly in the chart for Sweden.
Since energy use is a key driver of CO2 emissions it is not therefore not surprising to also see this decoupling in CO2 emissions. Many countries have managed to grow their economies while reducing emissions at the same time.