The Energy Star Programme, run by US government, has prevented 2.8 billion tones of greenhouse gases (GHG) from being released in Earth’s atmosphere since its inception in 1992. For some perspective, the total emissions saved are equal to over three times the annual global emissions from the aviation sector.
In a warming world, where any more GHG emission adds to the danger, the initiative may soon come to a halt. The new government under President Trump has introduced wide-ranging budget cuts to environmental initiatives, in line with his regressive stand on climate change. The President has also begun reversal of several climate-related actions enacted by his predecessor.
The Energy Star Programme, USA’s flagship voluntary energy efficiency certification initiative, is one of the many to be defunded. Buildings, electrical appliances and other products carrying the energy star certification reduce energy consumption by 20-30 per cent above the federally required limits in the United States. Not only is the scheme environmentally renumerative, it also makes monetary sense. According to reports, it saves US $30 billion every year for US citizens and businesses while costing taxpayers only $60 million a year.
The programme’s defunding will have wide-ranging impacts in the US. The Energy Information Agency reports that USA’s energy-related emissions have reduced by 1.7 per cent in 2016, as opposed to a 2.7 per cent in 2015. As per the report, these reductions were in large part related to a switch from coal-fired to gas-fired power supply and improvement in energy efficiency. Defunding the programme can further decelerate this already diminishing trend of emissions reduction.
The impact of defunding the Energy Star programme does not stay limited to USA. A number of countries across the world have adopted the programme’s framework in their own policies.
Since its inception in 1992, Australia, Canada, Japan, Taiwan and the European Union adopted the Energy Star programme. India’s Energy Conservation and Building Code (ECBC) also used the Energy Star’s guidelines for energy efficiency for buildings. Curtailing of the American programme may stagnate its Indian counterpart or similar initiatives in other parts of the world.
Defunding of the energy star programme was announced as part of a wider agenda of the current US administration to reverse climate action. This included an executive order that rendered mute the provisions of US’ clean power plan that aims at reducing energy consumption from power producers, while raising restrictions on mining and use of coal all over the country.
A report published by the Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based environmental advocacy organisation, analysed the reduction in emissions and found that most of the energy-related GHG emissions reductions have been due to the market linked switch from coal to gas and improvements in energy efficiency, rather than any behaviour linked reduction in energy consumption. The recent legislative and executive actions in the United States are serving to reverse even the market-led reduction trend of GHG emissions.
The reversal of market forces pushing energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy (and moving back to coal-based energy) will increase GHG emissions in the foreseeable future and reduce confidence in global efforts to combat climate change.