Today, hundreds of millions of people struggle with energy poverty. One in ten people lack electricity to light their homes, refrigerate their food or keep cool in rising temperatures.
In a world where the technology to provide everyone with power has been available for many decades, this is a global shame. We must provide energy equity and connectivity for all, as we have promised in the Sustainable Development Goals. But we must also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, otherwise, these same people will suffer the most on a hothouse Earth.
Net-zero commitments are growing. But we are still behind on the goals of the Paris Agreement. At the same time – driven by population growth, increasing wealth and a warming planet – billions of new appliances will be added to the global stock by 2050.
To ensure that rising power demand does not send greenhouse gas emissions spiralling out of control, we have to prioritize clean, renewable energy. But this must be accompanied by concerted efforts to improve the energy efficiency of every appliance and building that draws power.
Increasing energy efficiency is an important short-term measure to reduce power demand while we shift to renewables. It is an important long-term measure to avoid demand exceeding supply when the global grid runs on renewables. It can help us rebuild our greener and more-vibrant economies after COVID-19. According to the International Energy Agency, building efficiency retrofits and efficient new buildings can create 9-30 jobs per million dollars of spending. And, of course, providing clean and efficient energy will reduce poverty and air pollution, help with education and livelihoods and provide many other social benefits.
Friends, these benefits are within touching distance. If we adopt effective policies, we can end energy poverty and make the energy matrix climate-friendly in a single generation.
We are already on our way to achieving these goals. Many countries are already acting.
Rwanda was the first developing economy to start implementing a National Action Plan on Sustainable Cooling. Ghana recently launched a financial mechanism that supports the purchase of highly efficient cooling products. Pakistan recently implemented its first mandatory Minimum Energy Performance Standards, or MEPS, for lighting products.
However, many countries are still behind the curve. To bridge the policy gap, UNEP’s United for Efficiency’s Initiative works with governments, regional centres, international organizations, private sector and NGOs on Integrated Policy Approaches that foster markets for energy-efficient equipment. Such approaches combine MEPs, labelling and consumer outreach programmes, new financing mechanisms and environmental and health considerations.
There are many roads to the top of the energy efficiency mountain. The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction (GlobalABC) Roadmap (2020-2025) can help countries reach net-zero carbon emission buildings. Governments and businesses can adopt green procurement, sourcing only the most eco-efficient products and services, saving billions of dollars each year in the process. As an example, UNEP is supporting the Governments of Cambodia and Vietnam in developing national roadmaps. In India, we support green procurement guidelines for air conditioning units, and heat mapping, looking towards a broader sustainable urban development strategy.
But energy sustainability cannot be achieved at the country level alone. We need to work together to send effective signals to consumers and manufacturers to increase efficiency.
Low-carbon energy and energy efficiency need to be pursued together, not independently, as is the case in many countries and regions. Regional harmonization of regulations is a powerful pathway to high efficiency: reducing trade barriers, expanding the size of markets and lowering prices.
We have the platforms to increase coordination – platforms like the Cool Coalition, the Global ABC, and the G20’s Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment initiatives. UNEP is also pleased to be working with the IEA and UK to bring energy efficiency in the global spotlight at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), through the Energy Transition Campaign.
The benefits of investing in sustainable and efficient energy are too numerous to be ignored. To take advantage of all benefits, we need to act urgently, ambitiously and together. In so doing, we can bring real and positive change for our planet while improving the lives of billions of people.
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