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Dr Brian Motherway
Head of the Energy Efficiency Division at the International Energy Agency.

It is generally not appreciated how much of an impact energy efliciency is already having on the world’s energy system, and on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in particular. Energy efliciency gains made globally since the year 2000 mean that, in 2016, the world used 12% less energy than it otherwise would have. This is the equivalent of the entire energy use of the European Union, and is a significant saving that has significant implications.
These global energy savings from efliciency improvements have led to a reduction in GHG emissions of just over two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2016. Without these efliciency improvements, emissions in 2016 would have been 12.5% higher. These emissions savings came from every part of the world, with the major emerging economies in particular accounting for 47% of the total.
The avoidance of fuel combustion that results from efliciency improvements also reduces local air pollutants, benefiting air quality and public health.
As the IEA has previously reported, global energy related greenhouse gas emissions have stayed flat for the past three years. As can be seen in the accompanying figure, efliciency gains contributed more to curtailing emissions growth than progress in renewables and cleaner fuels. While much of the discussion tends to focus on renewables and the supply side, the role of the demand side is of great importance. Of course, the supply and demand sides interact with each other. For instance, China’s progress on improving energy efliciency tends to reduce coal use more than other fuels, thus making the overall Chinese energy mix cleaner. Because of its scale, this dynamic in China has a significant impact on the global trend. This is worth noting as it can tend to mask slower progress on efliciency in other parts of the world.

The IEA tracks these global energy efliciency trends through its annual energy efliciency market report. The most recent report, Energy Efliciency 2017, highlights the progress being made on improving energy efliciency and the many positive benefits arising from this. Policy is key: where energy efliciency policies have been put in place, progress is being made. In cars for example, steady progress is being made to improve the efliciency of the global car fleet, pushing back against the impacts of lower fuel prices that tend to lead to larger, less eflicient vehicles being purchased. On the other hand, truck efliciency is relatively neglected: only four countries in the world have implemented fuel efliciency standards for trucks, as against about fifty for cars. Our latest global analysis detects a slowdown in the implementation of new energy efliciency policies of all kinds, which risks undermining the gains that have been made in recent years.

As the Paris Agreement focuses the minds of policy makers on implementation, and also highlights the essential role for energy efliciency in all pathways to lower emissions, there is a need for more of a concentration on the design and delivery of strong energy efliciency policy. As a Government moves towards greater action on energy efliciency, there is much they can learn from others’ experiences. Energy efliciency is a global issue, and many countries have accrued valuable data, experience and expertise on how to best design and implement good policies in all sectors. The IEA, through its role as a global centre of knowledge, is now bringing together all of the world’s key information and resources on energy efliciency policy. Our new Global Exchange Platform for Energy Efliciency offers a new interactive and accessible online interface for information on all energy policies, showing where they have been implemented and what learnings they have offered. It also allows policy makers to share their latest information with each other, as well as gaining access to others’ best practice experience.

More information can be found at

Dr Brian Motherway

Head of the Energy Efficiency Division at the International Energy Agency. Prior to joining the IEA Brian was Chief Executive of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland