Columnists: Brook Riley, Rockwool International

Published on: 17 Nov 2016

What energy efficiency can do for EU

First Brexit and now Trump. It’s no accident. God forbid LePen, Hofer and Wilders make it an avalanche. I’m angry and afraid and looking for ways to respond. And I believe the work we are doing together on energy efficiency is one way. Here are three promising lines of work:

1) Climate action
Trump wants to quit the Paris Agreement. He has chosen a climate change denier to head the transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. Whatever happens to the Paris Agreement, I think it is more and more important that emission cuts happen as the result of less controversial policies. (That is, less controversial for Trump and LePen sympathisers).

Efficiency tops the list. You probably saw the UN Environment Programme’s emissions gap report from the beginning of the month. The gap between projected global emissions in 2030 and the level required to stay below 2 degrees Celsius is 12-14 gigatons of CO2e emissions. Yet the report estimates energy efficiency can deliver over 12 gigatons of cuts.

2) Energy security
Trump has said he would think twice about coming to the aid of NATO allies if they are attacked. LePen is probably even more isolationist (and pro-Putin). I can’t even begin to imagine how worrying this is for the Baltic States, Poland, Finland, Hungary, Czech Republic and others which were invaded or occupied by Russian forces last century.

Saving energy reduces oil and gas imports. It cuts Putin’s power to bluster and bully. Back in 2014, at the height of the Russia / Ukraine crisis, the Financial Times described roof insulation as Europe’s secret weapon against gas dependency. Increasing the 2030 energy efficiency target by just 1 percentage point saves the energy equivalent of the planned Nord Stream II project.  We need to make common cause with people like Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary General.

3) Cutting off the oxygen of the populist movements
Trump, Farage, LePen – their rise is fuelled by people’s anger against the establishment, by the feeling that Brussels and Washington aren’t doing anything for them. 'We know energy efficiency can improve the lives of tens of millions of people across Europe – for example by cutting fuel poverty and improving air quality – and we know this will help ease tensions. But warmer homes and better living conditions are not enough. EU (and national) decision makers have to show they understand and care. In the current political context, I’ve the feeling that being seen to be genuinely trying to help is almost as important as the result. The EU could very well fall apart if it fails to demonstrate its added value, with horrible consequences for climate change, peace and wellbeing.

So let’s do what we can. Obviously, energy efficiency is just part of a very big picture. But I believe our work can add up to something significant.


Other columns by Brook Riley