Is it still necessary to present the benefits of energy efficiency ? It is central to the fight against climate change: first, in terms of mitigation: according to the IEA, energy efficiency can contribute to up to %40 of the emission reductions needed to reach the Paris Agreement goals.
But energy efficiency is also essential for adaptation, for instance, by strengthening energy security in case of supply issues, but also by regulating temperatures inside dwellings in case of extreme weather events . However, while renewable energy has its own international agency (IRENA), energy efficiency does not have any dedicated multilateral structure. Why is that?
The opportunity of creating an International Energy Efficiency Agency actually came up quite early. In the early 1990s, such an organization could have supported the modernization of the heavy industries of the former Soviet economies and China: these countries had spent the past decades building up industrial facilities with very low energy performance, and that needed improvement . Nowadays, such an agency could support countries and cities to accelerate their low-carbon transitions.
Some international initiatives addressing energy efficiency do exist, however. The International Energy Agency (IEA) is widely considered as one of the most prominent, and it publishes reference documents such as the yearly Energy
Efficiency Market Report. The organization has also played a key role in elevating the profile of energy efficiency, defining it as “a fuel” like oil or gas . However, the IEA suffers from important limitations, the main ones being: 1) its membership is only open to selected countries. Other economies can only be granted that status of “associate member” – that is the case for Brazil, China, India, or Morocco (the only country from the African continent) ; 2) its role is mostly limited to being an energy think tank, and it theoretically cannot implement projects.
Other initiatives related to the IEA are addressing some of these limitations. Typically, the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC) was established in 2009, as a tool to foster dialogue between some IEA members and emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, or South Africa. It was hosted by the IEA, but officially independent from it, which allowed full membership of emerging economies. However, the initiative closed down in 2019, and is now replaced by an Energy Efficiency Hub, which is now part of the International Energy Agency (IEA). Its operations began recently.
Finally, the United Nations (UN) are also very active in the field. Many of the UN entities are focusing on energy- efficiency activities that are related to their mandates: UNIDO (the UN Industrial Development Organisation) promotes energy efficiency in the industry, UN Habitat at the city level, etc. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) stands out, with many projects with participation of the private sector and aiming at accelerating the adoption of better energy efficiency standards in the world and other measures (for instance, United for Efficiency, District Energy in Cities, or the Global Fuel Economy Initiative). To support these initiatives, the UN established in 2011 the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative. One of its three aims is to double the rate of improvement of energy efficiency – a target that was incorporated in the Sustainable Development Goal 7. It works closely with UNEP and the aforementioned initiatives rebranded Energy Efficiency Accelerators.
The landscape of international energy efficiency institutions remains very fragmented. It is difficult to tell whether an international energy efficiency agency could significantly accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency measures in the world. Still, much is needed, especially as the rate of energy efficiency improvement is declining since 2015; it only improved by less than %1 in 2020, much less than in %1.6) 2019) or %1.5) 2018) . More efforts are urgently needed to raise the profile of the sector, coordinate technical assistance, and securing project finance.
Thibaud Voïta has spent close to 15 years piloting projects and programs on sustainable energy and climate change policies. His has worked with various international organizations on energy efficiency policies, including IPEEC, Sustainable Energy for All or, currently, the NDC Partnership. He is also a research fellow at the IFRI. The views here are his, and do not represent nor engage the organizations he works/has worked for.
Head of Knowledge Products – NDC partnership
1 Most of this paper comes from T. Voïta, “The Missing Guest: Energy Efficiency in the Multilateral Energy Arena”, October 2021, IFRI, available on https://www.ifri.org/sites/ default/files/atoms/files/voita_energy_efficiency_2021.pdf 2 IEA, The Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency. From “hidden fuel” to “first fuel”, March 2019.
3 H. Geller, « Establishing an international energy efficiency agency – a response to the threat of global climate change”, Energy Policy, Vol. 19, Issue 7, September 1991, 695 – 689.
4 B. Görlach, U. Fuentes Hutfilter, Options for multilateral initiatives to close the global 2030 climate ambition and action gap – Policy field energy transition, German Environment Agency, November 2020;
5 IEA, The Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency. From “hidden fuel” to “first fuel”, op. cit.
7 IEA, Energy Efficiency 2020 ,2020.