We live in interesting times with respect to energy and climate concerns. There is no simple theme to where we are and where we are going. Well, we know where we are supposed to be going but the road isn’t obvious. It is as if we are flailing all over the place trying to make some sense to the signals we are getting from just about everywhere. And we certainly are getting a lot of signals.
Often so much going on can lead to paralysis because it is impossible to know where to turn first. What do we do that will have significant impact? It’s not obvious. The problem there is no silver bullet that solves all. Ah, how we wish it were true (well, maybe not).
It is good to look at the early days of energy efficiency as an energy policy instrument. Throughout and immediately after the oil crises of the 1970s, energy efficiency was seen as a long-term solution. Energy efficiency cannot be implemented overnight. It takes careful planning and comprehensive implementation. It takes many different types of specialised expertise. And it takes lots of money to do properly. We have had over 40 years of experiments, pilot projects, research and other programmes. So, we are definitely well on the path if there is the political and public commitment.
What we are really missing is that real sense of urgency, that commitment to improved energy efficiency. The average person knows there is a problem but generally feels powerless that anything they do will be insignificant. And there seems to be some concern about what the real role for improved energy efficiency is. While it is widely promoted as “Energy Efficiency First” by politicians and many others, are our energy and climate policies really confirming that?
Nothing is insignificant. Consider the buildings sector that is getting so much policy attention. The Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) states that we must significantly improve the energy performance of 97% of our buildings by 2050. Every one of those buildings is significant.
The energy consumer – yes, us – needs to be better brought into the picture in all sectors: buildings (private, public and commercial), transport, industry/business. Attending a recent roundtable on the food and beverage industry in Europe, it was shocking to hear about the low level of awareness of those managing SMEs in that sector. For residential buildings, the Energy Advice Exchange has argued for more effective empowering of consumers so that they appreciate the benefits to themselves and to the greater society.
The important point is that the consumer has to be the heart and centre of an effective low-carbon energy transition strategy that focuses first on improved energy efficiency.
But getting back to the point of all the signals we are receiving. At one point they were “going in one ear and out the other” but in talks I’ve had with the “person in the street” I feel that is changing. Just not enough.
What does it take? There is a need for greater urgency to take action now – not tomorrow (whenever that is to come). The recent IPCC special report shows that the serious impact is almost upon us.
But how do we achieve that level of urgency in society without sounding overly alarmist and utterly defeated before we really start?
It was Jean Monnet, the French diplomat who is recognised as one of the founders of the European Union who said: “People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognise necessity when a crisis is upon them.” But how do we create a sense of urgency without the “panic” of a crisis?
Or do we have to be up front and say we are in a crisis?
We have to stay calm in these interesting times. But we have to be deliberate, organised and focused. This starts with the consumer at one level but, ideally, it also needs strong leadership since several hundred million consumers all going this way and that does not solve things either. This leadership is based on strong institutions with a human voice and approach.
We are getting some guidance from the European Union in the form of well-designed Europe-wide directives for the energy transition, and they are regularly being updated. Good, but not enough. We have those directives being implemented at all levels: national, regional and local, where appropriate. Good, but not enough, especially when one hears that implementation is less than stellar.
Since our policy framework largely comes from EU institutions, we need leadership that can speak to and for all consumers in Europe and all stakeholders who can support and strengthen the role of consumers.
At this point, no one is stepping up to really inspire and motivate the wider population. Maybe after next year’s European Parliamentary election or after the change of the European Commissioners we will be pleasantly surprised. It could be a global figure or institution but at this point it is not obvious.
It is in our hands. Let’s stay calm but let’s take deliberate, effective action. We must.
Remember, stay calm but carry on . . .