Living standards and populations are growing across the globe, and the new, increasingly urbanized, middle classes are looking to the creature comforts that have long been taken for granted by others.
Living standards and populations are growing across the globe, and the new, increasingly urbanized, middle classes are looking to the creature comforts that have long been taken for granted by others. This process is a welcome indicator that many nations are moving into or toward the middle-income zone and bringing a higher quality of life for their citizens.
However, this process is increasing the demand for power and thus boosting greenhouse gas emissions, complicating the task of tackling climate change. Global electricity consumption is expected to grow 60 per cent by 2030—primarily due to the accelerated use of inefficient appliances and equipment such as room air conditioners and domestic refrigerators in developing and emerging countries. For example: in the 15 Southern African countries, the stock of domestic refrigerators is set to increase by 500% between 2011 and 2030; in Paraguay, the stock of domestic refrigerators will double by 2030; and in Panama, the stock of air conditioners is expected to increase by 400% over the same period.
Fortunately, with the application of climate-smart thinking, people across the globe can enjoy the benefits of their increased incomes while minimizing their contribution to climate change – a global phenomenon that could ultimately peg back these hard-won gains in living standards should it be left unchecked.
Shifting markets to efficient air conditioners, domestic refrigerators and electric motors can reduce global energy consumption by 10% annually. This is equivalent to the output of 600 large power plants, and would save US$350 billion in electricity bills and 1.25 billion tonnes in global carbon dioxide emissions each year. Brazil alone could reduce its electricity consumption by 16% per year by increasing the efficiency of its refrigerators, room air conditioners and ceiling fans—equivalent to taking approximately seven million private cars off the road.
The benefits of such a switch go far beyond reducing emissions. Lowering electricity consumption, especially during times of peak demand, reduces the risk of blackouts. Large investments in new electricity generation capacity can be avoided. Importantly for end users, millions of dollars can be saved on electricity bills: by switching to a high-efficiency air conditioner, for example, a household in Indonesia could save more than US$1,200 over the lifetime of the product.
In order to prompt the move to energy-efficient products, governments need to establish the right policies. The technologies are widely available, but making them accessible and increasing their market share requires legislation such as minimum energy performance standards, and supporting market mechanisms such as financial incentives and programmes.
There are plenty of examples out there of governments rising to the challenge. Chile is phasing out inefficient incandescent lamps – saving almost US$500 million in electricity bills per year – as it implements a new energy agenda. In South Africa, ESKOM, the electric utility, has invested heavily in an effective and integrated demand-side management system to promote energy efficiency among customers.
Governments and the private sector need support, however, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stands ready to provide that support. At the United Nations Climate Summit, UNEP is launching an ambitious public-private partnership, the Global Efficient Appliances and Equipment Partnership – along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Copper Association (ICA), CLASP and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – to accelerate the global shift. The Global Efficient Appliances and Equipment Partnership will provide tailored assistance to governments as they develop and implement national and regional strategies facilitating the permanent transition to energy-efficient products.
This new undertaking is a key contribution to the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4LL) initiative, which includes a goal to double the rate of improvements in energy efficiency. It also builds on UNEP’s en.lighten initiative, a public-private partnership that counts 65 developing and emerging countries as partners. These nations have pledged to design and implement policies that will phase out inefficient incandescent lamps by the end of 2016. Once fully implemented, the savings will reach US$7.5 billion and 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. As the Chile example shows, savings are being made now. There is no reason why the same thing cannot be done with other technologies heavy on power consumption.
Leapfrogging to efficient products requires a committed partnership of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, appliance and equipment manufacturers, utilities, international development banks and financial institutions. A single organization cannot do it alone, but collective action can, and will, bring results.
More than a dozen nations from Latin America and the Caribbean have expressed an interest in joining the new partnership. At the UN Climate Summit, other countries have the opportunity to take the lead in this new global alliance, proving their commitment to taking the wide-ranging action – including signing up to a new global climate deal by 2015 – that will create the low-carbon future our society so clearly needs.