No deal in Copenhagen…but hey, energy consumption stops growing

As world leaders leave Copenhagen, where millions of people’s hopes about a fair, absolute and binding deal on climate change were shattered, I think we can all do with some good news to lift our morale.

The Joint Research Center of the European Commission has published a report on electricity consumption and efficiency trends in the European Union. Among the report’s most striking conclusions are that over the period 2004-2007 the final energy consumption in the EU-27 Member States decreased, while electricity end-use consumption in EU-27 continued to grow, but at a lower rate than the economic growth. The researchers directly attribute part of these positive developments to the effectiveness EU energy efficiency policies, although they stress there is still a lot to do. 

Does this mean that perhaps some of the most neglected, least reported, behind the scenes solutions to climate change are the answer as opposed to hoping to get all world leaders to agree on a binding treaty? Of course I realise we do need a global agreement if we want emissions to go down globally – and the effort that went into this summit, by governments and from civil society organisations which organised an unprecedented mobilisation of millions of people – was absolutely justified. And my thoughts go to the hundreds of committed, hard working campaigners that put some much effort into Copenhagen for so long, some of which even had to put up with the awful and unprecedented decision to exclude NGOs from the talks.

But I also wonder whether such a huge focus on Copenhagen (which at times meant several other crucial aspects of climate policy were inevitably neglected) and the massive disappointment it has now caused, means we are all in danger of being too pessimistic about what can be done and the time and effort it will take to get there. We can’t afford to wait until we get a deal in Mexico in December 2010 (which of course we still need to achieve) – so I say, in the meantime, let’s just start working a lot harder on these policies on the ground that actually already work and can achieve rapid results…. One example among several I could make is the Coolproducts for a Cool Planet campaign to make the products we use in the European Union much more green and energy efficient – one of the low profile, high impact climate policies that are going unreported at the moment despite the fact they are incredibly crucial in achieving all those global emission reduction targets we talk about.

On the other hand, without a deal at Copenhagen, it will be harder to get an agreement in the EU in 2010 for more stringent climate policies, and for a higher 2020 emission reduction target (this is currently 20%, but the idea was that it would be 30% if there was a global agreement in place) – and this in turn will make it harder to keep the momentum going to get strong energy efficiency policy moving. But my own two pence is that we need to put more effort into showing that there are positive stories, solutions that work, so that it becomes obvious that setting global targets is feasible. This in turn could also help to reach a global deal.

Going back to the actual report, other interesting findings are that in an average household, and excluding heating systems, the main sources of electricity consumption are fridges (20%), lighting (14%), cloth/dishwashers (12%), cooking (10%), televisions (10%), standby modes (7%). A remaining 25% includes other electronics, air-conditioning, ventilation, etc.

Class A air-conditioners have increased their market share from 17% in 2005 to 61% in 2008. This is a positive development as it means people are buying more energy efficient products. However, the number of units sold is still increasing very fast, which means air conditioning is responsible for a growing share of electricity use (+10% in 2007), a trend which may increase as the climate gets hotter. The report also says the stock of information and communication technologies (ICT) is still growing at a high rate of 4% per year.

(this blog entry is partly based on a helpful summary of the report by ECOS, an organisation we work with on the Coolproducts campaign.)

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