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Part 6 - Long-term strategies of developing countries

17. Leapfrogging strategies for developing countries
18. A development-focused approach to the environmental problems of developing countries
19. Economic development, energy, and the environment in the people's Republic of China
Comments on part 6

17. Leapfrogging strategies for developing countries

José Goldemberg

1. Introduction

In the past it was generally accepted that economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), was linked to the growth in consumption of raw materials and energy and in the unpleasant consequences of consumption, namely pollution.

If such linkages were to last for many decades the consequences for mankind would be disastrous. At present, only approximately a quarter of the world population (concentrated in the OECD countries) has reached a standard of living that can be considered acceptable. Of the remaining three-quarters - spread over more than 100 countries - only a small fraction has reached a reasonable standard of living; the remainder are at a level little above absolute poverty.

In the developing world (low-income economies!), GDP/capita is at least 10 times smaller than that in the OECD countries, and consumption of raw materials and energy is also at least 10 times smaller. Such disparities in income will not last forever. The economies of a number of very populous developing countries are growing rapidly and - barring unexpected set-backs -their GDP/capita will approach that of the developed countries. This will result in great strains on access to raw materials and energy, as well as an increase in pollution.

Fig. 17.1 GDP and primary energy consumption: OECD, 1973-1985 (1973 = 1. Sources: energy data - BP Statistical Review of World Energy, London, June 1986; GDP data - OECD, National Accounts of OECD Countries, Vol. 1, Paris, 1985)

Efforts to delink GDP growth and consumption/pollution are, therefore, a high priority in the strategies of many governments. Figure 17.1 shows the evolution of primary energy consumption and of GDP for OECD countries in the period 1973-1985 relative to 1973.

The delinking of energy and GDP growth occurs for several reasons:

-the saturation of consumer goods markets - in industrialized societies economic activity has moved towards services not heavy industry;

- a shift towards the use of less energy-intensive materials;

- a shift from traditional, inefficient non-commercial fuels to such energy sources as electricity, liquid and gaseous fuels, and processed solid fuels;

- the adoption of new and more energy-efficient technologies. These trends have not so far spread significantly to developing countries although successful efforts are being made in some of them.

Projections of primary energy consumption give an idea of what might happen in the future. However, depending on the assumptions made, the results can be quite different (as shown in fig. 17.2). More recently, projections such as the ones prepared by the World Energy Council (WEC) tend to cluster at the lower end of such projections (Goldemberg et al., 1987; WEC Commission, 1993).

Fig. 17.2 Projections of primary energy consumption, 2020-2030 (Note: A = WEC Commission high-growth case, B = reference case, B1 = modified reference case, C = ecologically driven case)

As far as pollution is concerned, the situation is more complex because some pollutants are associated with low income, such as concentrations of particulate matter, and others with high income, such as CO2 emissions, as shown in fig. 17.3 (World Bank, 1992). The goal of many governments is to achieve an evolution over time of the type shown in fig. 17.4.

2. The prospects of success in delinking GDP and energy

The way energy is used in different countries and the efficiency of its use are usually quantified by an indicator called energy intensity, that is, the ratio between energy consumption (E) - measured in kilojoules (kJ), BTUs, or tons of oil equivalent (toe) - and GDP measured in US dollars. Long-term studies of the evolution of energy intensity in a number of countries (Martin, 1988) indicate that this ratio climbs during the initial phase of development when heavy industrial infrastructure is put in place, reaches a peak, and then decreases (fig. 17.5).

Fig. 17.3 Environmental indicators at different country income levels. (Source Bank, 1992)

Fig. 17.3(a) Urban concentrations of particulate matter.

Fig. 17.3(b) Urban concentrations of sulphur dioxide.

Fig. 17.3(c) Municipal wastes per capita.

Fig. 17.3(d) Carbon dioxide emissions per capita

Only commercial energy consumption is considered in figure 17.5. Other factors besides technology, such as geography, population, and history, play a role in the evolution of energy intensity. This is why it is difficult to compare the evolution of different countries. It is quite clear, however, that latecomers in the development process follow the same pattern as their predecessors but with less accentuated peaks: they do not have to reach high E/GDP ratios in the initial stages of industrialization because they can benefit from modern methods of manufacturing and more efficient systems of transportation developed by others. In other words, what was once considered an iron link between energy and GDP growth is not a general feature of modern economies. This was true even before the oil crisis of 1973, and rising oil prices only accelerated the pace of structural change in the industrialized countries.

Fig. 17.4 Evolution over time of the growth in GDP and pollution

In contrast, as figure 17.5 shows, energy intensity in the developing countries is increasing. The adoption of outdated technologies foisted on them by the industrialized countries seems to be part of the reason. Other reasons might be the transfer of "dirty industries" or highly energy-intensive industries (such as aluminium smelters) to developing countries. A notable exception to the prevailing increase among the developing countries is China, where energy intensity is diminishing rapidly. As a whole, however, the energy intensity of the world is decreasing, as shown in figure 17.6.

One way for developing countries to avoid environmental and economic stress is to leapfrog the technologies used by industrialized countries in the past. This means incorporating energy-efficient technologies early in the development process.

Fig. 17.5 The evolution of energy intensity in various countries (Source: Martin, 1988)

Fig. 17.6 The evolution of world energy intensity, 1970-1990 (Source: World Energy Council, Survey of Energy Resources, London, 1992)

The result could be a decrease in the yearly growth of energy consumption without hampering development. In Brazil, for example, action planned for the period 1990-2010 is expected to lead to a 30 per cent reduction in projected energy consumption by the end of this time-span, compared with what it would be if no action were taken (Brazilian Ministry of Infrastructure, 1991).

Brazil's energy system relies heavily on renewable resources such as hydropower and biomass (fuelwood, charcoal, ethanol, and biogas from sugar cane): 62.7 per cent of all energy used is renewable and 37.3 per cent is non-renewable in the form of oil, gas, and coal. Energy consumption in Brazil has grown quite rapidly - 4.8 per cent a year in the past decade. At this rate, total consumption would grow from 183.6 million metric tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 1990 to 473.6 Mtoe in 2010, i.e. a 2.6-fold increase. The new energy matrix of the Brazilian government incorporates energy conservation, an increase in the consumption of natural gas, and the continued use of biomass coupled with modern technology (including gasification for electricity generation using highly efficient gas turbines). Under the new plan, the present consumption of 183.6 Mtoe would grow to 386.6 Mtoe in 2010, which is 30 per cent below the historical trend (table 17.1). This would result in savings of US$85 billion in investments and a 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions.

Table 17.1 Brazil's growth in GDP and energy consumption: Historical trend and new energy matrix, 1990-2010

  Historical trend New energy matrix
GDP' annual growth rate 4.3% 4.3%
Energy consumption, annual growth rate 4,8% 3.8%
Increase in energy consumption (year 2010/1990) 473.6 Mtoe/183.6 386.6 Mtoe/183.6
Mtoe = 2.6 Mtoe = 2.1

Another way to look at the energy intensities of different countries is to analyse the way they change not with time but with GDP, as shown in table 17.2 and figure 17.7 (WRI, 1993). East European countries were excluded because they use energy very inefficiently. Energy intensity increases very slowly as income per capita increases, which means that highly industrialized countries have incorporated modern and efficient technologies into their infrastructure.

3. The prospects of success in delinking GDP and pollution

Appreciable success has been achieved in delinking GDP and certain types of pollution as GDP increases. Figure 17.8 shows the evolution of GDP and emissions of particulates, lead, and sulphur oxides, which are all linked to fossil fuel consumption. Reductions in nitrogen oxides have not been achieved (World Bank, 1992).

Another area where progress has been made is solid waste, which is becoming increasingly important owing to problems of disposal (WRI, 1993). Table 17.3 presents data on municipal solid waste per capita for a number of countries. The amount of waste per capita increases by a factor of 4 when one goes from low- to high-income countries owing to the increasing importance of packaging. In analogy with the energy intensity indicator one can introduce a "solid waste intensity" indicator (the ratio of solid waste to GDP) and plot this indicator as a function of GDP. Figure 17.9 shows that countries with high per capita incomes produce much less waste per unit of GDP than do countries with low per capita incomes. Low-income countries produce an inordinate amount of waste considering their per capita incomes, whereas industrialized countries have incorporated efficient technologies that have reduced waste.

Table 17.2 Energy intensity in selected countries (ranked by GDP/capita)

Country Energy use (million BTU/capita) GDP/capita ($PPP/capita) Energy intensity (million BTU/$PPP)
China 24.3 2,656 0.009
Peru 21.7 2,731 0.008
Iraq 29.7 3,510 0.008
Colombia 35.1 4,068 0.009
Argentina 61.5 4,310 0.014
Brazil 47.4 4,951 0.010
Chile 43.7 4,987 0.009
Portugal 55.3 6,259 0.009
Greece 90.7 6,764 0.013
Ireland 102.8 7,481 0.014
Spain 82.5 8,723 0.009
Saudi Arabia 176.9 10,330 0.017
Israel 83.7 10,448 0.008
Oman 95.4 10,573 0.009
New Zealand 187.7 11,155 0.017
Austria 144.2 13,063 0.011
Belgium 189.0 13,313 0.014
Netherlands 188.7 13,351 0.014
Italy 115.3 13,608 0.005
United Kingdom 150.1 13,732 0.011
Denmark 138.9 13,751 0.010
France 149.3 14,164 0.011
Japan 127.8 14,311 0.009
Germany 178.8 14,507 0.012
Finland 222.4 14,598 0.015
Sweden 265.8 14,817 0.018
Singapore 138.4 15,108 0.009
Australia 214.7 15,266 0.014
Kuwait 230.7 15,984 0.014
Norway 369.7 16,838 0.022
Switzerland 155.4 18,590 0.005
Canada 399.7 18,635 0.021
USA 308.9 20,998 0.015

Source: WRI (1993).

Fig. 17.7 Energy intensity vs. per capita GDP (Source: WRI, 1993)

Fig. 17.8 The evolution of GDP and emissions of pollutants: OECD countries, 1970-1988 (Note: GDP and emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides are OECD averages; emissions of particulates are estimated from the averages for Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States; lead emissions are for the United States. Sources: OECD, 1491; US Environmental Protection Agency, 1991)

Table 17.3 Solid waste intensity in selected countries (ranked by GDP/capita)


Waste (lbs/capita/day)

GDP/capita ($PPP/capita)

GDP/capita/day ($PPP/capita/day)

Waste intensity (lbs/$PPP)

Liberia 1.1 937 2.57 0.43
Kenya 1.1 1,023 2.80 0.39
Côte d'Ivoire 1.1 1,381 3.78 0.29
Indonesia 1.3 2,034 5.57 0.23
Romania 1.3 3,000 8.22 0.16
Iraq 2.4 3,510 9.62 0.25
Colombia 1.2 4,068 11.15 0.11
Poland 1.3 4,770 13.07 0.10
Bulgaria 1.3 5,064 13.87 0.09
Hungary 1.6 6,245 17.11 0.09
Portugal 1.5 6,259 17.15 0.09
Trinidad & Tobago 1.1 6,266 17.17 0.06
Former USSR 1.3 6,270 17.18 0.08
Greece 1.5 6,764 18.53 0.08
Czechoslovakia 1.1 7,420 20.33 0.06
Ireland 2.0 7,481 20.50 0.10
Spain 1.9 8,723 23.90 0.08
Saudi Arabia 2.4 10,330 28.30 0.08
Israel 2.4 10,448 28.62 0.08
Oman 2.4 10,573 28.97 0.08
New Zealand 4.0 11,155 30.56 0.13
Austria 1.3 13,063 35.79 0.04
Belgium 2.0 13,313 36.47 0.05
Netherlands 2.6 13,351 36.58 0.07
United Kingdom 2.2 13,732 36.64 0.06
Italy 1.5 13,608 37.28 0.04
Denmark 2.6 13,751 37.67 0.07
France 4.0 14,164 38.81 0.10
Japan 2.0 14,311 39.21 0.05
Germany 1.8 14,507 39.75 0.05
Finland 2.4 14,598 39.99 0.06
Sweden 2.0 14,817 40.59 0.05
Singapore 1.9 15,108 41.39 0.05
Australia 4.2 15,266 41.82 0.10
Kuwait 2.4 15,984 43.79 0.05
Norway 2.9 16,838 46.13 0.06
Switzerland 2.2 18,590 50.93 0.04
Canada 3.7 18,635 51.05 0.07
USA 3.3 20,998 57.53 0.06

Source: WRI (1993).

Fig. 17.9 Solid waste intensity vs. GDP/capita/day (Source: WRI, 1993)

A serious pollution problem in developing countries involves indoor emissions of particulates and other pollutants originating in fuels used for cooking (WHO, 1992). The results are shown in table 17.4 and are quite alarming. As far as particulates are concerned, table 17.5 shows that firewood gives off larger amounts than coal briquettes. The SO2 concentrations given off by various fuels are shown in table 17.6. This demonstrates that a switch from coal to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) would represent enormous progress as far as SO2 emissions are concerned. Regarding particulates, the same would be true if firewood were to be replaced by LPG.

Table 17.4 Indoor air concentrations of pollutants in developing countriesa

Pollutant Concentration WHO daily exposure guidelines
Total suspended particulates (TSP) 1 · 120 mg/m³ 0.12 mg/m³
CO 10 · 50 mg/m³ 10 mg/m³
NO2 0.1 - 0.3 mg/m³ 0.15 mg/m³
Benzo-alpha-pyrene 1 · 20 m g/m3b 0.001 m g/m³

Source: WHO (1992).

a. India, Nepal, Nigeria, Kenya, Guatemala, and Papua New Guinea.

b. At these concentrations there is a link with cancer in 1 out of 100,000 people after a life-time's exposure.

Table 17.5 Concentrations of total suspended particulates in kitchens from various fuels

Fuel Concentration (mg/m³)
Firewood 0.79
Briquettes 0.49
LPG 0.19
Biogas 0.18
Outdoors 0.18

Source: WHO (1992).

Table 17.6 Concentrations of SO2 in kitchens from various fuels

Fuel Concentration mg/m³
Coal briquettes 0.49
Firewood 0.04
Biogas 0.02
LPG 0.02
Outdoors 0.01

Source: WHO (1992).

Fig. 17.10 Strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

4. Conclusions

In developing countries, pollution reduction seems to be closely connected to modernization. Growth along traditional lines would produce unbearable amounts of pollution, but the data show that industrialized countries have achieved important reductions in emissions per unit of GDP. This evidence is not so dramatic in the case of emissions causing the greenhouse effect (mainly CO2). Greater progress in the future will require a combination of the strategies described in figure 17.10.


1. The World Bank classification of countries is as follows:

• Low-income economies are those with a GNP per capita of US$610 or less in 1990.

• Middle-income economies are those with a GNP per capita of more than US$610 but less than US$7,620 in 1990. A further division, at GNP per capita of US$2,465 in 1990, is made between lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income economies.

• High-income economies are those with a GNP per capita of US$7,620 or more in 1990.


Brazilian Ministry of Infrastructure. 1991. Brazilian Energy Matrix. Brasilia.

Goldemberg, J., T. B. Johansson, A. K. N. Reddy, and R. H. Williams. 1987. Energy for a Sustainable World. New Delhi: John Wiley.

Martin, J. M. 1988. "L'intensité énergétique de l'activité économique dans les pays industrialisées." Economies et sociétés - Cahiers de l'ISMEA 22(4), April.

OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). 1991. The State of Environment. Annual Report. Paris: OECD.

US Environmental Protection Agency. 1991. National Air Pollution Emission Estimates 1940-1989. Research Triangle Park, N.C., Report EPA-450/4-91-004, March.

WEC (World Energy Council) Commission. 1993. Energy for Tomorrow's World The Realities, the Real Options, and the Agenda for Achievement. London: Kogan Page.

WHO (World Health Organization). 1992. Indoor Air Pollution from Biomass Fuel. Geneva: WHO.

World Bank. 1992. World Development Report 1992. Development and the Environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

WRI (World Resources Institute). 1993. Environmental Almanac. Washington, D.C.: WRI.

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