According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, implementing measures that promote energy sufficiency in homes, during travel, and at work can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When there is less demand for energy, the need for low-carbon electricity generation decreases, helping to move towards net-zero emissions.
France’s experience during a winter energy crisis caused by Russia’s conflict with Ukraine offers valuable insights for other countries grappling with high energy prices. By implementing a “sobriety plan,” which aimed to reduce total energy consumption by 10% within two years, France demonstrated that sufficiency measures can achieve a quick reduction in energy consumption and emissions driving climate change.
The 15-point energy sobriety plan included measures such as limiting the temperature in public buildings to 19°C, supporting teleworking and car-sharing, and dimming or turning off public lights at certain hours. The plan also provided subsidies for more efficient heating systems and sent alerts to households three days before an anticipated energy supply shortage, asking them to reduce electricity consumption during peak times.
Combined with higher energy prices, this plan led to a nearly 10% reduction in electricity consumption in December compared to previous years. Gas consumption also decreased by 17% when adjusted for temperature differences.
Lessons learned from France’s experiment include the fact that sufficiency measures can quickly cut emissions, as evidenced by an 8% reduction during the winter of 2022. The lack of backlash suggests that people may be receptive to similar measures to reduce fossil fuel use. Furthermore, the survey revealed that economic factors, such as increased prices, were more significant motivators for energy conservation than environmental concerns.
However, the survey also highlighted the challenges faced by lower-income households, who have limited capacity to reduce energy use and invest in energy-efficient systems. While higher prices can lead to small cuts in energy demand, more substantial and permanent reductions will require additional incentives or regulation.
The implementation of the sobriety plan also demonstrates that research and concepts may take time to be endorsed by policymakers. While the concept of energy sufficiency was introduced in public debates a decade ago, it was only embraced due to concerns about energy security and costs. To fully benefit from energy sufficiency measures, France needs to integrate them into a broader societal transformation to achieve its national target of a 50% reduction in energy consumption by 2050.
– Report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
– French transmission system operator survey of 12,000 people