IEA warns that global energy efficiency efforts are lagging

Despite strides made by policymakers worldwide, the pace of progress falls drastically short of what’s necessary to meet critical climate targets.

This is according to the IEA’s Energy Efficiency 2023 market report, issuing a stark warning that while efforts in this space have escalated, they remain insufficient.

Measures to enhance energy efficiency have surged by 45% since 2020, with a considerable increase in policies across nations representing a substantial portion of global energy demand. However, the report highlights that the global rate of improvement in energy intensity—a vital gauge of efficiency—slowed in 2023.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said: “The world’s climate ambitions hinge on our ability to make the global energy system much more efficient. If governments want to keep the 1.5C goal within reach while supporting energy security, doubling energy efficiency progress this decade is critical.

“The findings of this report are a stark warning to the leaders gathering shortly at the COP28 climate conference in Dubai that they all need to commit to stronger action on efficiency and to deliver on it.”

COP28 begins in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Thursday (30 December).

Despite continuous pleas from environmental organisations urging global leaders to prioritise renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels, the recent leak detailing the UAE’s intentions for oil deals at COP has cast uncertainty on the prospects for the upcoming conference’s success.

Earlier this month, the IEA urged oil and gas producers to re-evaluate their roles in the face of an escalating climate crisis and to ramp up investments in the energy transition.

Nevertheless, research from IEA demonstrates that the global clean energy transition remains ‘unstoppable’. All scenarios assessed by the IEA now result in a peak demand for coal, oil and gas before the end of 2030.

Why has the progress been slow?

According to the report, the reasons behind the slowdown in improving energy intensity are multifaceted.

An economic resurgence in energy-intensive sectors and soaring demand for air conditioning in what’s shaping up to be one of the hottest years on record have impeded the desired progress.

The report emphasises that this deceleration jeopardises the collective ambition to achieve net-zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050—an imperative to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target.

It further highlights that the current rate of average annual energy intensity improvements stands at a mere 1.3%, considerably below the necessary 4% annual average needed until 2030.

The report positions the acceleration of energy efficiency as a linchpin for success, highlighting the urgent need for a global commitment to double these improvements by the decade’s end.

While some nations showcase commendable progress—such as the EU’s Green Deal and the US’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—more concerted, widespread efforts are needed, according to the IEA.

The report asserts that consistency in efficiency gains remains pivotal, particularly amidst forecasts of soaring global electricity demand.

It further emphasises that the benefits of accelerated action on energy efficiency are not only environmental but also economic and social.

Research from the IEA reveals that such advancements could spawn an additional 4.5 million jobs worldwide, considerably reduce home energy bills, and catalyse a reduction of more than 7 billion tonnes in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2030—equivalent to the entire current emissions of the global transport sector.

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