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Do more with less. That’s the message from three cities around the world

ImageThree cities. Kyoto, Lisbon and Moscow. Each with connections to current but differing global energy concerns. But what links all three is the same message—the need to put a halt to the amount of energy we are wasting.

This is a tale of three cities. These three cities act as emblematic shorthand, to express the goals of European energy policy. Their names are Kyoto, Lisbon and Moscow. The first refers to a Treaty; the second a Strategy; the third, a visceral fear. Each deserves quite separate consideration, has separate adherents, mostly evokes separate policy responses. Except that the objectives of each would be realised more cheaply and effectively, if only we all just stopped wasting so much fuel.

Let us take these cities in turn. Probably the most familiar is Kyoto. The first-ever international treaty named after a Japa-nese city—and certainly the first to be named after its historic capital. The Kyoto treaty was negotiated in December 1997. And was subsequently ratified by sufficient of its signatories to come into force in 2002. It is the only international treaty designed to reduce emissions of the gases that are causing our climate to change.

Restrict emissions growth

It is based around two key years: a starting date of 1990, a closing date of 2012. Between which time, each signatory is committed to make an absolute percentage reduction in emissions (or in a few cases, to restrict growth of emissions to a maximum percentage). Overall, Kyoto is intended to reduce emission levels by 5 per cent—although the then 15 members of the European Union undertook to re-duce their emissions by the larger figure of 8 per cent. The treaty makes no reference to what would be a scientifically acceptable level of emissions.

Successive European Commission administrations have created high-level initiatives to identify what needs to be done, to ensure that, between them, Member States realise that commitment. Every one of these initiatives has come to the same conclusion. It is that the “most cost-effective, swiftest and most publicly acceptable policy to combat climate change is to improve the efficiency with which we use our energy resources.”

The Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs of Lisbon occurred when Portugal last held the six-monthly rotating Presidency of the European Council of Ministers. As it happens, the Portuguese government will resume that role this July. This declaration said Europe’s ambition is to be the most efficient economy in the world. Subsequently, the country’s Prime Minister, Jose Manuel Barroso, stepped down to become head of the European Commission, to seek to realise that ambition.

Last year, together with his energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, he launched a six-year action plan designed to make Europe the most energy-efficient economy in the world. In doing so, it was recognised that there is a wide variety around the world in the GDP/energy ratio of developed economies. Effectively, the less fuel input required to produce a unit of wealth, the better it is for the overall economy. So the “more cost-effective, swiftest and most publicly acceptable policy to improve the GDP/energy ratio is to improve the efficiency with which we use our energy e-sources.”

Currently just over half of Europe’s energy is imported from outside the 27 member states. Existing trends will make that closer to 65 per cent overall, 90 per cent of oil and gas, within 12 years.

Of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing; commodities of all types are traded throughout the world. In this context, self-sufficiency per se is not the appropriate goal.

Reliance on one energy source

What is to be avoided is over-reliance on any single dominating source. In the 1970s, the developed world was plunged into recession because of problems of both pricing and availability of oil from Arabia. Subsequently, oil has been phased out of many uses, becoming predominantly a transport fuel. Its place has been taken by natural gas, both as a power station feed, and most particularly for the heating of buildings. And for much of eastern and northern Europe, there is one major source for this gas. Hence the naming of Moscow as the third of our cities.

The worries about the implications of such reliance are so great that recently the Polish government has been calling for the creation of an energy NATO. Effectively, asking for mutual solidarity on security of supply. Rather than letting individual countries be played of against each other.

But of course the less fuel is needed, the less the potential for external pressure. So, clearly, “the most cost-effective, swiftest and most publicly acceptable policy to improve energy security is to improve the efficiency with which we use our energy resources”.

Three cities. Three issues dominating not just energy, but much of public policy concerns across Europe. And one basically simple answer to each. Do more with less.

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