Dou­bling down on Euro­pean en­ergy ef­fi­ciency

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

At the COP21 con­fer­ence in Paris last De­cem­ber, world lead­ers made a bind­ing pledge to set na­tional tar­gets, in­clud­ing en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bench­marks, for re­duc­ing green­house-gas emis­sions. Now, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is near­ing a mo­ment of truth: Will it set am­bi­tious but at­tain­able en­ergy ef­fi­ciency tar­gets that will force in­di­vid­u­als and in­dus­try to make real changes? Or will it bend to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and set mean­ing­less tar­gets that will be reached any­way, with no any ad­di­tional ef­fort?

The lat­ter ap­proach was taken in 2014, when Euro­pean lead­ers agreed to im­prove en­ergy ef­fi­ciency by 27% be­fore 2030. The Euro­pean Coun­cil was ap­plauded at the time for its lead­er­ship. No­body both­ered to men­tion that global en­ergy ef­fi­ciency was al­ready likely to in­crease by around 35% on its own by 2030.

The COP21 agree­ment has given Europe a se­cond chance to set an ex­am­ple and be­come the global stan­dard-bearer for en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, busi­ness lead­ers, and aca­demics are await­ing new tar­gets from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which will most likely be es­tab­lished in Oc­to­ber, in a forth­com­ing re­vi­sion to the Com­mis­sion’s En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency Di­rec­tive.

So, what would be a mean­ing­ful tar­get? If Euro­pean lead­ers are se­ri­ous about their COP21 com­mit­ment, they should em­brace a 70% re­duc­tion on 2010 con­sump­tion lev­els by 2030 – more than dou­ble the Euro­pean Coun­cil’s 2014 tar­get.

A 70% re­duc­tion is am­bi­tious, but not im­pos­si­ble. There is both an eco­nomic and an en­vi­ron­men­tal case to be made for it. Eco­nom­i­cally, coun­tries that re­duce en­ergy con­sump­tion also in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity, sim­ply be­cause us­ing less en­ergy costs less money. While im­ple­ment­ing en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency mea­sures may re­quire heavy ini­tial in­vest­ments, these out­lays will be off­set by fu­ture pro­duc­tiv­ity growth, which is the only way de­vel­oped coun­tries can sus­tain­ably im­prove liv­ing stan­dards over time.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal ar­gu­ment for an am­bi­tious tar­get is not that we need to “save the Earth.” But we do need to save the cli­mate in which hu­mans have evolved and pros­pered. En­ergy ef­fi­ciency around the world is in­creas­ing at roughly 1.5% per year, which is a wel­come devel­op­ment and a sign that 30 years of for­ward-lean­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies have had some ef­fect. Global en­ergy con­sump­tion, how­ever, is ris­ing at around 3% per year, im­ply­ing that we’re still dig­ging our hole deeper, rather than fill­ing it in.

Six of the world’s largest economies – China, the United States, Rus­sia, In­dia, Ja­pan, and the Euro­pean Union – re­main the big­gest pol­luters. But most growth to­day comes from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that now par­tic­i­pate in the global econ­omy. Even if these coun­tries make sig­nif­i­cant strides in re­duc­ing emis­sions, they will be the pol­luters of the fu­ture, at least in the near term.

Glob­al­i­sa­tion has in­creased life ex­pectancy and im­proved liv­ing stan­dards in many poor coun­tries. But it also poses new en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems that will re­quire am­bi­tious so­lu­tions. Seen in this light, a 70% im­prove­ment in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency is the min­i­mum Europe – and the world – can aim for to reach real sus­tain­abil­ity at cur­rent lev­els of global growth.

For­tu­nately, this is all within our grasp. A 2015 study pub­lished by Eco­fys, Quin­tel In­tel­li­gence, and the Lis­bon Coun­cil con­cluded that Europe al­ready has the tech­nolo­gies avail­able to dou­ble cur­rent en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency lev­els with­out sac­ri­fic­ing eco­nomic growth. These in­clude heat pumps, smart grids, LED light­ing, and en­ergy-ef­fi­cient house­hold equip­ment.

So why aren’t these tech­nolo­gies be­ing im­ple­mented al­ready? The rea­son isn’t that in­dus­try is hold­ing Europe back; on the con­trary, Euro­pean in­dus­try’s en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print has im­proved con­sid­er­ably in re­cent years. Rather, the prin­ci­pal en­ergy con­sumer in Europe is in­di­vid­ual house­holds, where en­ergy ef­fi­ciency can be tripled in the com­ing years with the right po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship, suf­fi­cient in­vest­ment, and long-term com­mit­ment from Euro­peans them­selves.

This takes us back to the En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency Di­rec­tive, where this work should be­gin. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion should set “moon-shot” stan­dards that push us to higher achieve­ments than we once thought pos­si­ble. If Europe can dou­ble its en­ergy ef­fi­ciency by 2030, Euro­peans will look back and won­der how they ever lived dif­fer­ently.

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