Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 11 Jul 2017

Starting at the local level

We have heard so much recently about the policy “chaos” in Washington DC with concerns about the United States pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and planning to seriously dismantle many important federal policies and programmes related to energy efficiency. Undoubtedly we should be concerned.

In Europe we are going through the process of approving the Commission’s proposed clean energy package with many directives being revised and with many non-legislative initiatives proposed. At last count there were over 3000 amendments for the Energy Performance in Buildings and Energy Efficiency Directives as well as for the new Governance regulation. There are growing concerns that Council (representing member states) are pushing back from the proposed 30% binding energy savings target for 2030. Anything less, however, would essentially be business as usual.

If there is any lowering in ambition in either the United States or the European Union, all is not lost. At the June eceee bi-annual summer study we heard about many initiatives at the local level. At Sustainable Energy Week, I chaired a roundtable discussion co-organised by Energy Cities and the Energy Advice Exchange on designing an EU buildings policy framework centred on consumers, local authorities and energy advisory services to deliver on Europe’s renovation challenge. We heard important presentations from the City of Parma, from Denmark, Germany and California, in particular. More recently I attended the IEA’s global conference on energy efficiency where we heard about other important developments in California.

Local authorities of all sizes increasingly understand why they must take action. This awareness was not always there. But they know that improved energy efficiency will improve air quality, will improve the health of citizens and will help the vulnerable cope just a bit better through lower energy bills. There are even more benefits that they are starting to appreciate.

While local governments take their overall direction from central governments and certainly depend on their financial and technical support, there is a growing realisation that policies and programmes should be bottom up and not top down. They increasingly realise that the consumer must be empowered, that it is the consumer that decides whether to undergo a renovation or buys that more fuel efficient vehicle.

Weekly we are reading about one mayor after another making a commitment to move towards 100 per cent renewables and towards a better energy performing buildings sector. And local governments can influence attracting financial support. The City of Parma is working with at least one local bank to provide soft loans for renovations. And now other cities are trying to emulate the same model.

We are increasingly reading about the Covenant of Mayors initiative or the C 40 that brings together cities from around the world. There is the sharing of experience and the important reinforcement that they are on the right track.

In many ways, this is the more sustainable pathway because it is less disrupted by the vagaries of national politics following elections. There is more immediacy because local decision makers and local bureaucrats have closer contact with their citizens.

There is not one local authority, however, that does not want a sustainable, ambitious framework at the national (or EU) level. For this reason, the decision of the majority of G20 heads of state and government to commit to the Paris climate obligations is so important. The call for an ambitious set of targets for greenhouse gas emissions, energy savings and renewable energy for 2030 in Europe is so important. The call for maintaining and improving the policy framework at the EU and US federal levels is so important.

When developing policy and when setting priorities, we cannot go wrong by thinking local first. It does not solve everything but it puts the consumer – that person who actually does take the action to save energy – in a much better position to take control and collectively set the agenda.

We have some serious challenges ahead to not only meet our Paris climate obligations but, more importantly, stave off the dire consequences of climate change. Now it is time to think local first.

 

 


Other columns by Rod Janssen

Oct 2016

Apr 2016

Nov 2011