In the Energy Transition the World Must Prioritize Efficiency
The widespread shift to clean energy sources is central to international climate goals. However, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), reducing energy consumption altogether is just as important and often more accessible. Compared to a new EV or installing solar, energy efficiency might not sound "sexy." Nevertheless, it is essential. According to IRENA, the world must undergo an 11% reduction in energy use by 2050 to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
UK Met Office: Red extreme heat warning, July 15, 2022.
NBC: Europe Hit With Sweltering Heat And Extreme Temperatures, July 14, 2022.
DW: Time is running out | WMO warns 1.5 degree threshold could be topped by 2026, May 18, 2022.
Why This Matters
Energy efficiency includes infrastructural renovations necessary to account for the uncertainty of climate impacts. Distributed improvements, or systems-based renovations, can aid in mitigation and address specific, local issues. Implementing green spaces in cities, for example, provides a range of benefits, including increased energy efficiency. "Neighborhood-scale green infrastructure is a very good investment,” Dr. Patricia Culligan writes for Front Lines. "Green spaces can soak up rainfall, protecting our cities against the devastation and disruption of frequent flooding … [while helping to] cool our cities as temperatures rise.”
The Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse | Here's how, October 19, 2021.
BBC: Past seven years hottest on record, EU satellite data shows, January 10, 2022.
Sky News: Climate Change | What is a heat dome and how does it cause extreme heat?, August 3, 2021.
Greening Buildings, Greening The World
When it comes to energy efficiency, like insulating a building, businesses and private consumers alike are often dissuaded by high upfront costs. Yet commercial and residential buildings, or the "built environment,” is responsible for 40% of global emissions.
The high energy intensity of the built environment means there is a significant opportunity for local action that makes a positive global impact. One way cities can address emissions is by retrofitting older buildings to increase energy efficiency. But to maximize benefits, these changes must be done systematically. Legislation, utility programs, industry collaboration, and new design practices can help provide building owners with the knowledge they need to undertake renovations. Meanwhile, financing mechanisms and subsidy programs, such as France’s MaPrimeRénov, can provide much-needed assistance for homeowners.
The bottom line: there is no time to waste in the energy transition. Implementing clean energy sources takes time, but energy efficiency is something that can happen now at any level. "When it comes to the built environment’s consumption of energy -- it’ll take more than the federal government policies and goals to tame this beast,” writes Jim Giebutowski, a technology executive and clean energy expert, on the importance of locally driven action. Adding, "Ground-level actions spurred by legislators, utilities, public/private partnerships, and new building innovators -- as well as an engaged citizenry -- will be required to make a carbon-neutral, built environment a reality."
WWF: Urban Nature-based Solutions | Buildings and neighborhoods, November 17, 2021.
World Economic Forum: Erion Veliaj | Green Walls And Other Approaches, November 11, 2021.
UN: A Practical Guide to Climate-resilient Buildings, July 6, 2021.