How the Three Percent Club is Maintaining Climate Momentum in the Time of COVID-19
By Steve Kukoda, Executive Director, International Copper Association
COVID-19 is rightfully one of the dominating priorities of the world’s governments right now. Resulting economic stimulus packages made in the coming months that focus on restarting economies, putting people back to work, and modernizing infrastructure will shape how we do business for decades to come. It is therefore critical that these roadmaps to economic recovery embrace sustainability. Europe's Green Deal, for example, aims to “turn climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and make the transition just and inclusive for all.”
As countries think about how to recover sustainably, it’s important to remember the world’s “first fuel”: energy efficiency, which serves as a resource of its own by maximizing the utility of existing energy sources. Despite its proven benefits, energy efficiency is often underutilized—or even overlooked. Countries rarely mention energy efficiency in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris climate agreement. Yet, according to International Energy Agency (IEA) analyses, the greatest share of actions—at least 40%—required for the Paris Climate Change Treaty to meet its goals need to come from energy efficiency. That is more than the share for either renewables or e-mobility, which often dominate the discussion on climate change and the clean energy transition.
Making Smart Decisions
Governments can decide today to make the efficient use of energy a key pillar of their economic stimulus plans. To do so, decision-makers will need to, at times, make choices for the long-term rather than the here-and-now. The most sustainable and efficient solutions are almost always more cost-effective over their lifetimes, and sometimes dramatically so.
For example, a business looking to upgrade its technology for air-cooling will have multiple options for pricing, performance, and efficiency levels. The cheapest solution often uses more energy, and that additional energy consumption will inflate the business’s utility bills throughout the life of the product. A more energy-efficient solution might have an additional cost; however, the same utility bills will be lower every month with energy savings that can help the business recover the difference in upfront cost several times over during the lifetime of the cooling solution.
The world’s governments collectively spend trillions of dollars each year on public procurement of goods and services. If all these purchasing decisions were made with sustainable public procurement as a core value, significant cost and emissions savings could be realized. The current massive economic stimulus packages can serve as a starting point for sustainable purchases by governments. Education and analysis—both of which exist in droves—need to become embedded in purchasing procedures so that lifetime benefits properly receive consideration.
Complicating matters is that the current pandemic has caused massive drops in energy prices worldwide. There is a danger this will lead governments (and each country’s industries and consumers) toward a mentality of, “Why do I need to use energy efficiently when it’s costing me so little?” If this type of thinking permeates the landscape, we will put climate goals in jeopardy. The COVID-19 response and climate action do not have to be mutually exclusive.
What Can Be Done Now?
The good news is that there is no shortage of organizations with leadership, experience, and expertise in advising governments on energy efficiency. Perhaps first among them is the Three Percent Club, a collaboration of governments and supporting organizations committed to working together to put the world on a path to a three-percent annual efficiency improvement. The Three Percent Club was formed in 2019 and adopted by the UN Secretary General at the Global Climate Summit in New York in September 2019. So far 15 countries have joined, as have more than 30 organizations and private-sector companies.
Why three percent? According to IEA, the world collectively needs to achieve a three-percent annual rate of improvement in energy efficiency to meet energy efficiency’s full potential in the Paris agreement. Yet, we are off the pace, with efficiency improvements only around 1.2 percent in recent years.
Embedded within the Three Percent Club is a network of global partnerships – among them, the Sustainable Energy for All Energy Efficiency Accelerators – focused on working with national and subnational governments on proven solutions that reduce CO2 emissions in an economically beneficial and sustainable manner. This highlights another important aspect of energy efficiency: economic solutions exist now, and real change can be made today.
Call to Action
I invite the world’s governments to join the 15 country members already committed to the Three Percent Club platform. I further invite private-sector companies, from all industries, to join us and work with us in countries to accelerate the uptake of energy-efficient products and solutions. My organization and our many partners in the Three Percent Club are standing by.
To find out more or join the Three Percent Club: