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International Energy Efficiency Expert

The planetary boundaries refers to major environmental limits within which humanity can operate sustainably. The international communities dealing with them agrees that there exist nine environmental limits that the humanity should not exceed. The nine planetary boundaries identified are: Climate change, Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction), Stratospheric ozone depletion, Ocean acidification, Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles), Landsystem change (for example deforestation), Freshwater use, Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms), Introduction of novel entities. If we cross these limits, abrupt or irreversible environmental changes can occur with serious consequences for humankind. There is a growing consensus that we have also crossed 5 to 6 of the planetary limits.

Climate change is one of them. Despite all what we know in 2023 about the reality of climate change today, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has never been so high. The relationship between climate change and energy use is direct: the majority of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy. Therefore, reducing energy consumption is a key strategy for mitigating climate change. Globally the fast development of renewable energy has not reduced the quantity of burned coal, oil and gases. Renewable energies, especially wind and solar, come in addition to the energy mix, not as a substitution to fossil energy. A comprehensive strategy for decarbonisation necessarily comprises a simultaneous decrease in energy intensity and in the carbon intensity of the energy mix. We also know that energy efficiency combined with energy sufficiency are one of the most immediate and cost effective strategy to mitigate greenhouse gas emission. We also know that saving energy generates numerous benefits like economic efficiency, health improvement through better air quality, job creation, improve productivity, etc… On the same line, we should also recognize that energy efficiency measures can play a crucial role in staying within the planetary boundaries. Here are some key connections:

Energy production often involves the extraction of natural resources and land use changes. Improving energy efficiency means needing less energy to achieve the same output, thereby reducing the demand for raw materials and minimizing the environmental impact associated with resource extraction that affects land-system change.

Extractive industries and some forms of energy production can contribute to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. Energy efficiency measures, such as promoting sustainable practices and reducing the need for resource-intensive energy production, can help preserve biodiversity and stay within planetary boundaries.

Certain energy sources, particularly fossil fuels, contribute to air and water pollution. Enhancing energy efficiency often involves transitioning to cleaner and less polluting technologies, helping to reduce the negative impacts on ecosystems and human health.

Some forms of energy production involve significant land use or can impact marine environments. Energy efficiency measures that lead to the adoption of smaller, more efficient infrastructure can help minimize the footprint associated with energy production, staying within planetary boundaries related to land and ocean use.

Certain energy extraction and production processes involve the use of chemicals that can be harmful to ecosystems. Implementing energy-efficient technologies can sometimes reduce the need for such processes, mitigating chemical pollution and aligning with planetary boundaries.

Some energy production methods, like certain types of power plants, require significant water consumption. Improving energy efficiency can often lead to technologies that are less waterintensive, helping to stay within planetary boundaries related to global freshwater use.

In essence, improving energy efficiency combined with energy sufficiency is a multifaceted approach that addresses various aspects of environmental sustainability. It aligns with the broader goals of staying within planetary boundaries by reducing the environmental impact associated with energy production, resource depletion and consumption. Transitioning to more efficient and sustainable energy practices is a crucial step in achieving a balance between human activities and the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to support them.