The entry into force of the Paris Agreement has helped raise issues of climate change and energy to the top of the global agenda. Energy consumption currently contributes two-thirds of global carbon emissions, so the goal of decarbonizing the economy, halving emissions by 2050 and reaching zero net emissions by 2100 hinges on our ability to find innovative solutions to reduce the growth of energy intensity.

Exciting progress

Energy efficiency is the most cost effective means of reducing the energy intensity of the economy and achieving a zero-carbon future. Efficiency improvements can save governments, companies and citizens trillions of dollars from reduced energy bills, while at the same time quickly reducing carbon footprints — a win-win solution. Many countries are moving ahead with new laws, policies and regulations to improve energy consumption, but much more needs to be done to accelerate results, in particular through the role of the private sector.  

And progress is evident. Success stories are starting to emerge from public-private partnerships around the world, for example, in the buildings sector. Buildings account for one-third of final energy use globally, and this is expected to double or even triple by mid-century. Yet today, more than two-thirds of all building development globally takes place outside of efficiency codes or standards. Enhancing efficiency of commercial and residential units through improvements in design, materials, lighting, heating and air conditioning represents one of the largest market opportunities in the shift to a zero-carbon economy.

Smart spending

“Efficiency improvements can save governments, companies and citizens trillions of dollars from reduced energy bills...”

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) has been a champion in advancing this agenda through public-private partnerships and energy market transformation. Through an ongoing portfolio of close to $3 billion in climate initiatives across 140 countries, our projects help support new, climate-friendly laws, policies and technology; enable access to climate finance; and encourage mobilization and awareness in companies and communities. These efforts are supporting better energy efficiency while at the same time helping to expand energy access and the use of renewable energy, all of which are critical to social and economic development.

One recent success is in Egypt, where an innovative green building project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, provides technical support to the private sector to shift to energy efficient lighting in their Cairo premises. Lead private sector partners include the JW Marriot and Conrad hotel chains; the Commercial International Bank, Egypt’s largest bank; and Carrefour, a leading international grocery chain. Through this cooperation, pilot buildings were selected by each company for full conversion to energy efficient lighting.

Chain reaction

The results have been dramatic, in some cases saving one-third of electricity costs while reducing carbon footprints. Equally important, support has been catalytic, with all four partners scaling-up their own investments to replicate this success across all their branches in the country. This new source of climate leadership has been inspiring, with other companies in their respective sectors set to initiate similar actions, including via the advocacy role of the America Chamber of Commerce, which also serves as a partner in the initiative.

Many examples are arising around the world on how innovative partnerships can help ‘de-risk’ the policy environment for action through a combination of new policies, capacities and awareness that lead to scaled-up investments in sustainable energy solutions. The Paris Agreement provides a platform for global partnerships between the U.N., governments and industry. Seizing the global goodwill and ambition towards climate action — and supporting this acceleration — not only protects the planet, it builds the social and economic resilience of countries, and empowers emerging leaders in the fight against climate change.