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Communicating long-term energy issues

Background description

Faced with the growing prospect of drastic and long-term changes in the global environment, governments and authorities need new tools for predicting what the world will look like in the distant future. Existing long-term energy-environment models, such as MEDEE or POLES, now provide reliable projections of energy demand and related environmental consequences to a maximum of 25 to 30 years. But the new challenges related to climate change, limited fossil fuel resources and the management of nuclear waste, as well as the agenda for the development of technologies necessary to face these challenges, require the consideration of many issues over 50 years or more.


The aim of the EU-funded VLEEM project was to develop a ‘Very Long Term Energy-Environment Model’, including the outlook on climate change and depletion of fossil fuel resources over the coming 100 years. VLEEM combined two innovative methods: back-casting and a rethink of energy-environment modelling to assess the relationships between very-long-term changes in social and cultural behaviour and technological progress. Life activities were categorised into five main social and cultural areas: economic production, food and feeding, shelter and lodging, leisure and self-fulfilment, and mobility. The energy and services needed for each of these activities were then analysed and projected into the future according to different scenarios.

Full project title: Very Long Term Energy-Environment Model
Project acronym: VLEEM
Project coordinator: Bertrand Chateau, Enerdata

Science in society significance

VLEEM has identified some important trends with respect to life in the 21st century. Population will be the most fundamental driver of the needs for energy services over the very long term. The average number of people per household in the world is expected to decrease from 3.7 in 2000 to 2.4 in 2100, falling by more than half in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Information, in the form of education and general knowledge taken from newspapers, TV, internet, travel, and so on, is the second key driver of energy needs. It determines wealth through labour productivity, and hence consumer behaviour. How people divide their time between work and leisure is the third main driver. All of these insights and others will help societies to be more aware of the effects of human behaviour and activities and how to modify them for the good of the environment.


VLEEM conclusions about energy service needs from 2000 to 2100:

  • Energy services for food will double;
  • Energy services for thermal comfort and living-space heating and cooling will triple;
  • Energy services for mobility will increase by a factor of five;
  • Energy services for economic production will only increase moderately;
  • Energy services for leisure and self-fulfilment (sports, cultural, social, and tourism activities) will have the fastest growth of all.