Taking stock

A committee of the European Parliament that is reviewing the Commission’s proposed clean energy package has just done something hopeful: it voted for a binding 40% energy efficiency target for 2030. The Commission had called for a binding 30% target and many members of Council (and others) oppose even 30%, and do not want the target to be binding. The committee has apparently understood that 30% will get us nowhere close to our long-term needs.

The clean energy package is the one opportunity to establish a foundation for Europe to meet its obligations under the Paris climate agreement through significant improvements in energy efficiency. But the proposed energy efficiency elements of the clean energy package show a serious lack of ambition.

The long-term transition to a low-carbon economy needs new thinking and new tools – such as empowering consumers and making them a key part of sustainable energy policies. Encouraging them to switch energy providers or finally providing them with long-promised smart meters do not constitute game changers. Our societies remain smug about conspicuous consumption and only tinker with unambitious efforts to reduce household or transport consumption. Yet the products and behaviour of consumers could make a dramatic contribution to energy efficiency and climate change goals.

It will be several years before any review of the directives covering energy efficiency and energy performance of buildings. Do we really have the luxury of waiting for another five years to even consider a serious renovation strategy for buildings that has teeth?

Can we afford the complacency of requiring big industry to undertake mandatory audits but not requiring industry to actually invest in installing the recommended efficiency upgrades?

The mantra is “Efficiency First”. But the current state of implementation shows little evidence that EU policymakers or national governments are really serious about attaining climate change goals by significantly improving efficiency.

Can we really wait?

How many more major wild fires, floods, mud slides, and hurricanes will it take until it dawns on us that have a very serious problem? And that the solutions are available, but there must be determination and urgency to implement them.

This is one energy situation that cannot be solved by more energy supply – not even if it is renewables. We have no choice but to reduce energy demand.

Efficiency can do just that. But are we leaving it to the next generation to deal with because we do not have the wherewithal to design, decide and implement efficiency measures?

There can be no “business as usual”. We need a paradigm shift to address rampant energy demand and sensitize consumers to the implications of doing – essentially – nothing to reduce it.

The energy efficiency community has an important role. We have to reach out to wider audiences. We have to convince others that we can collectively have a significant impact in meeting our obligations, that we need some new thinking – combined with our substantial experience – to revamp our approaches.

But progress must also come from way beyond the energy efficiency community. One committee in the European Parliament, pushing ambition, is an encouraging start.

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