Columnists: Rod Janssen, Independent consultant

Published on: 30 Jan 2018

Time to land a punch?

We are definitely in the midst of the low carbon energy transition. Every week we are reading about significant developments in all sectors – buildings, industry, transport and transformation. There are welcome activities in reducing energy demand and in decarbonising energy supply.

There are many drivers for this action at the local, regional, national and global levels. They are all important. It was sobering to read a recent article entitled Fighting Climate Change? We’re Not Even Landing a Punch in the New York Times by Eduardo Porter. He is quite emphatic that we simply are not doing enough.  He states “But what definitely won’t suffice is a climate strategy built out of wishful thinking: the proposition that countries can be cajoled and prodded into increasing their ambition to cut emissions further, and that laggards can be named and shamed into falling into line.”

The concern is about wishful thinking.  We have so many good intentions and, as I said, we read about them all the time.  But those individual actions are simply not adding up enough to significantly have us meet our 2015 Paris climate obligations.  Porter goes on that we will have to consider “unpalatable” choices. As he states: “There is no momentum for investing in carbon capture and storage, since it could be seen as condoning the continued use of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy, the only source of low-carbon power ever deployed at the needed scale, is also anathema. Geoengineering, like pumping aerosols into the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s heat back into space, is another taboo.”

Disappointingly, what Porter does not discuss is drastically reducing energy demand. The energy efficiency community is convinced that energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions can be drastically reduced and, by doing so, will make a valuable and needed contribution towards achieving our Paris targets.  Also, by integrating energy efficiency with renewable energy technologies on our buildings, we can turn them into net energy providers. We can have further gains through better demand-side management.

Early January, the European Parliament adopted a binding 2030 energy savings target of 35%, above the 30% proposal from the European Commission.  Many were disappointed that Parliament did not have the leadership to adopt an ambitious 40% target, which many analysts have shown is feasible and doable.  We have to remember that the previous target was 27% and was non-binding.  No doubt there is increased realisation that energy efficiency can be more ambitious than in the past. That is undoubtedly a positive move forward.

Now it is for the European Council, made up of all the member governments, to decide.  The concern is that Council will opt for an even less ambitious target.  But let’s see.

If Council decides on a less ambitious energy savings target while keeping the same climate change target, we need to ask how those greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be achieved? If not from energy savings, where?  And why?

Porter is right that we need more ambition.  We cannot just “wish” results.  We really need to look in the proverbial mirror and be honest. If we are not that concerned about climate change, then we need to say so. If we are not concerned about the social and economic benefits from improved energy efficiency, then we need to say so.

If we need more solid analysis to wake up everyone, then let’s get on with the job. We cannot sleep walk our way forward.  We have to start taking more bold steps, we have to give a few punches as Eduardo Porter would want us to do.  While the Commission’s clean energy package is close to being finalised, and won’t be re-opened for several years, then we will have to find non-legislative measures. We will also need true leadership from outside government, as well as from  the EU institutions, because it is not sufficiently coming from within. We have no choice.

This low-carbon energy transition, which also must include emphasis on resource efficiency and the circular economy, is too important and the pace needs to accelerate.  Reflecting on Porter’s article, it is time we landed a punch.




The views expressed in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of eceee or any of its members.

Other columns by Rod Janssen

Oct 2016

Apr 2016

Nov 2011