Speech by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment
Denis Naughten T.D.
International Energy Agency, Global Ministerial Conference on Energy Efficiency
Paris, 29 June 2017
Good morning everyone. First of all I would like to thank the IEA for inviting me to speak here today. Dr. Birol continues to show excellent and far sighted leadership in placing energy efficiency at the top of the IEA agenda. Brian Motherway has brought together a fascinating range of issues and speakers, which draw on the wealth of experience he has of making the low carbon transition a reality. I am delighted to see how he is continuing to make this vital contribution at the international level.
I'm the first Minister in Ireland and I believe the only one in Europe to have Cabinet responsibility for Energy, Environment, Climate and Digital. This gives me a unique perspective on those cross cutting and very integrated issues.
Integrated, I hear you ask – Environment and Digital? I think the intersection between Digital and Energy provides us with vast opportunities to drive energy efficiency to a level never contemplated before.
It is all about the internet of things; connecting everyday items to the internet – cookers and kettles. Today 5bn items are connected to the internet. But by 2020 that figure is expected to be 50bn. That's over 600 items every second between now and 2020. This provides us with the potential to turn Heat and Electricity on and off remotely. It's about using energy smarter, reducing emissions and protecting our environment. To exploit this potential, we in Ireland are rolling out High Speed Broadband to urban and rural homes at a rate of one premise's every minute of every working day.
I'm also Ireland's first Minister for Climate Change. For me energy efficiency and climate change are inextricably linked. Using less energy and using more efficiently is the most cost effective and accessible way to tackle climate change. The IEA has captured it perfectly with its simple message: "The cheapest and cleanest energy is that which you do not use." This high level goal is great but as this conference title asks, how do we do this quickly and how do we benefit citizens, real people with real lives and real concerns?
So for me as a practicing politician, who has to physically knock on doors to hold on to my job every five years, these real people must come first!
So how do we make energy efficiency real to people in communities around the globe? For us in Ireland it is about making homes more comfortable to live in and making people in those homes have healthier lives.
Case study – Warmth & Wellbeing
Working with our Department of Health we have developed a Deep Retrofit Programme using energy efficiency to help people with long term respiratory health problems, who are also at risk of energy poverty.
There is now a lot of international evidence that living in cold, damp, poorly ventilated houses is linked to chronic health conditions, particularly in older people and young children. This is only made worse when people cannot afford the energy they need to heat their homes properly.
We selected such a scheme in Ireland because 49% of our population over 50 years old has at least one chronic medical disease. Chronic disease accounts for 40% of admissions to hospitals and 75% of bed days in our hospitals. Also in Ireland 1:5 children suffer from asthma.
The Warmth and Wellbeing pilot scheme will bring comprehensive energy efficiency and structural upgrades to about 1,500 Irish homes by the end of 2018 at a cost of €20m. Alongside this, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is undertaking research to gather firm evidence of the positive impact of energy efficiency on the health and wellbeing of individual people.
We also want to see if we can measure a reduction in their need for health services and improvements in social outcomes, such as educational performance.
With works now underway on about 400 homes we are hearing some extraordinary stories about the how living in warmer, more energy efficient homes, with cleaner air, is changing lives. We are hearing about people who had become isolated in homes they couldn't afford to heat, and who had never made contact with their local health services, who are now getting the care they need and starting to get back out into their communities. Improving the energy efficiency of the homes of these people has not just given them a level of comfort they have never known, nor just reduced their energy bills; it has been the catalyst for a real improvements in their quality of life. This is what energy efficiency is about. It is making a real difference for real people.
Making the case for energy efficiency
So what does that tell us about how we need to make the case for energy efficiency? There are three key points I'd like to make here:
1. Energy efficiency must add value
Firstly; energy efficiency is not just an energy only issue. And that is a real challenge for energy policy makers. Many in the energy sphere are so comfortable in their energy silo.
Energy is an enabler of economic activity and social well-being. The message from the Warmth & Wellbeing scheme isn't about using less energy or the technologies that enable energy efficiency; it's about using energy better to improve health and social inclusion.
If we are motivate people to act on energy efficiency, we must speak to their priorities – better health and social inclusion outcomes, the competitiveness of business, or the cost effectiveness of our public services. Energy efficiency is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
And this is why I am so pleased to see the establishment this year of a new Behavioural Economics Unit in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. By making small policy or fiscal changes, we can have disproportionate impact effect on people's actions. Back in 2002 such a Behavioural Economic Model was used to introduce the first plastic bags tax in the world which has dramatically reduced our historic consumption of 1.2billion shopping bags annually.
The establishment of this Unit builds on the excellent work Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is doing with the IEA as a partner in the Demand Side Management working group. The group held a highly successful event met in Dublin in May, and will continue to be a key strategic partnership for energy policy making in Ireland.
2. Energy efficiency needs joined up government
Secondly, we will not realise the full potential of energy efficiency without coherent policy making across government. The Warmth & Wellbeing scheme has got off the ground because it is a joint policy initiative between myself and my colleague the Minister for Health.
In the business community, we are seeing an increasing value being placed on energy efficiency to fulfil resource efficiency criteria necessary to attract large scale investment. This is now fast becoming a key issue for policy on foreign direct investment, in flagship projects like the Dublin Docklands.
Since 2009 the public sector in Ireland has improved its energy efficiency by 21%. This is public money that can be put to much better use on frontline services, while demonstrating the potential of energy efficiency to citizens and driving the market for clean energy services.
Therefore, it is vital that, as energy policy leaders, we give our colleagues in government the evidence they need to embed energy efficiency in their policy areas. In Ireland we very much value the work of the IEA in helping us develop the systems and best practice to do this.
And we are going to strengthen our partnership with the IEA by making an additional voluntary contribution to further this work. If more member nations are prepared to join this research I believe that we can produce world class evidence that can shape public policy around the globe.
3. Energy efficiency and clean air – motivating action on climate change
Thirdly, we are all only too well aware of the challenges around motivating action on climate change.
This is why I feel that, aligned with our action on climate change; we need to place much greater emphasis on the need to improve air quality, and the very tangible health and other benefits that are delivered directly from energy efficiency. Indeed cleaner air and better public health is one of the main drivers for action on climate change in countries like India and China.
Having said that, I am conscious there can be a tension between climate and clean air policies and some of these tensions are highlighted in the detailed special report from IEA last year, 'Energy and Air Pollution'.
For example, wood is seen as carbon neutral in climate terms, but its particulate matter causes real problems for air quality and public health in the domestic context. The IEA report proposes a Clean Air Scenario, a pragmatic and attainable strategy to reconcile the world's energy requirements with its need for cleaner air.
In line with this, Ireland is in the process of developing its own National Clean Air Strategy by the end of 2017 with measures across sectors to improve air quality for all Irish citizens. Indeed Ireland hosted the first Clean Air Dialogue with the European Commission in Dublin in March this year, to promote actions to improve air quality and contribute to Ireland's implementation of EU clean air legislation.
At the 2nd Global Climate and Health conference last year, Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the UN, said:
'Clean energy policies reduce air pollution…. Human health and the environment both win':
This is a strong public health and environment message. That is why air quality is central to Ireland's energy efficiency programme. For example, our new Deep Renovation pilot scheme will support, not only deep energy efficiency measures for homes, but also switching from fossil fuels to low carbon heating systems.
We know that energy efficiency is the first step on the path to safeguarding the environment for future generations.
Agreement of EU Energy Efficiency Directive
This is why I am so pleased to see agreement reached on the EU Energy Efficiency Directive earlier this week. In particular the retention of the 30% target, which Ireland has consistently supported.
Conclusion – responsive leadership from governments
In conclusion, realising the potential of energy efficiency to be central to action on climate change and clean air is all about leadership.
We are asking every section of our economy and society to be responsive to the demands of decarbonisation. As governments and public administrations, we must lead by example.
That is not easy. The path to decarbonisation means change. Public administrations never find change easy. And when it comes to decarbonisation, the change it is bringing is challenging to the centre and its familiar ways of working – in all kinds of ways – be it distributed generation or fiscal policy.
However, if we are to support our citizens to make the efforts we ask of them, governments must walk the same path. And that journey has already begun with energy efficiency.