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Climate change and the energy link

Griff Thompson and Lando Velasco discuss the work of the International Institute for Energy Conservation, linking climate and energy concerns.

Griffin Thompson is Executive Director of IIEC, based in Washington DC, USA, and is responsible for global operations and strategic development. Lando Velasco is IIEC’s country coordinator in the Philippines.

Ever sinceglobal warming burst on the public scene with its formal recognition at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, government policy makers, private industry, international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), have been in a rhetorical tug-of-war over its implications. Starting with a contentious debate over its very existence, eager participants in this discussion have waged a vigorous debate on the multiple dimensions of climate change, with advocates and adversaries defined by geographical, economic and political interests.

In crafting the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the climate negotiators sowed the fertile seeds of political discontent as issues of national sovereignty, intergenerational justice, social equity and economic freedom have come to punctuate all subsequent negotiations on the topic.

Negotiations since the 1997 Protocol have attempted to define the basic elements of the so-called flexibility mechanisms. The main mechanisms, the Clean Development Mechanism, Emissions Trading, and Joint Implementation, have all been plagued by a series of schisms separating North and South, East and West, industry groups, and NGOs.

But preparatory to defining the modalities of these mechanisms is the need to clarify and integrate the broader concerns of economic and social development that lie at the heart of the climate convention and which breathe life into its various articles. The challenge before the negotiators (and it must be noted that the voices of a wide diversity of industry, environmental, financial and development organizations contribute to the chorus) is to reconcile the rights and needs of the developing world with the interests and motivations of the industrialized countries.

The Fourth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Buenos Aires in 1998 made a small but significant step forward in this direction by adopting the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. The Plan of Action represents a pledge to progress on all of the flexibility mechanisms as well as substantive advancement of the goals of the development and transfer of technology.

We can expect formal progress in the climate negotiations, as defined by a delineation of the Kyoto Protocol and eventually full ratification, to be slow and tortuous. But there is real progress being made each and every day throughout the globe that bodes well for both greenhouse gas mitigation and economic development. In many respects, the issue of climate change has only underscored and reinforced the work many organizations and institutions have been doing for decades. At the International Institute for Energy Conservation (IIEC), the past 15 years have been spent working on policies, practices and projects which contribute to the objectives of the climate convention, by bringing economic growth and social development to countries through sustainable energy solutions.

IIEC has taken a “prophet/profit” approach to climate change and economic development. From the beginning, the climate debate has focused on the “prophet” motive: predictions of environmental catastrophes, economic inequities, social chaos and threats to political and economic independence. Clearly, actions should be taken to prevent these prophecies from becoming true. But these actions must also account for current social, political and economic realities. They must also allow for economic growth, fuelled by the “profit” motive.

Energy efficiency, sustainable transport, and renewable energy are practical, win-win, market-based solutions that address both the “prophet” and “profit” motives for climate action. Such “no-regrets” solutions reduce the threat of climate change, provide important economic benefits, and help lay the foundations for sustainable development based on social equity and intergenerational justice. In short, they allow us to “do well” financially, and “do good” socially and environmentally, both in the short-and long-term.

IIEC has been active in a wide variety of alternative energy practices around the globe in its market-based orientation to climate change. IIEC’s strategy is based on a five-track approach consisting of: advocating sustainable energy policies; developing demonstration projects and programmes; providing training and technical assistance; building markets for energy efficiency; and expanding financing for sustainable energy projects.

IIEC seeks partnerships with international, regional and national organizations for the purpose of enhancing indigenous capacity at all levels. We have spent considerable time on peer to peer exchanges between leaders of the developing world where lessons from one country can be shared with other countries. With our partners, we have also conducted a series of workshops highlighting the linkages between technology transfer and the Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms.

Various country governments, local industry, indigenous NGOs, and regional energy associations have worked together in advocating such renewable energy technologies as solar, wind and micro-hydropower. These technologies are shown to contribute to all elements of the development agenda such as income generation, poverty alleviation, health, education and gender equity, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In Chile, IIEC collaborated on a 35MW wind project proposal for the United States Initiative for Joint Implementation, demonstrating the vast carbon offset potential of this technology. In the Philippines, we coordinated an effort with the tourism industry to link renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and practices to economic growth and community empowerment. And, in India, we have begun a three-year programme on training and capacity building of the country’s financial community on solar project financing in conjunction with the SolarBank Program.

One of IIEC’s strongest programmes that manifests the climate-energy connection is in energy efficiency appliance standards and labelling. Working collaboratively with a wide assortment of public and private partners, we have assisted in the regional harmonization of energy efficiency standards, testing protocols and labels, as well as strengthening domestic programmes in the Philippines and Thailand.

In an effort to expand the reach of standards and labelling and their contribution to greenhouse gas mitigation, the Institute recently formed an alliance with the United States’ Livermore Berkeley National Laboratory and the Alliance to Save Energy for a global initiative on appliance standards and labelling.

Recognizing that buildings play a crucial role in greenhouse gas emissions, IIEC has instituted several programmes focusing on energy efficient construction and operations.

In South Africa, we have joined a number of local partners on several housing projects that  provide healthy and thermally-efficient homes for low-income communities. These housing projects will result in case studies which will quantify the greenhouse gas impact of kerosene, wood and coal fuel sources from cooking and heating activities in South African townships, and show how energy-efficient homes can mitigate against such devastating effects.

In Eastern Europe, a joint initiative by IIEC-Europe and the Georgia Energy Brigades involves the recruitment and training of “brigades” of volunteers by NGOs to repair doors and windows and install simple technologies to conserve heat in buildings and reduce energy consumption.

Green Buildings programmes have also been initiated in partnership with local public and private-sector organizations in the Philippines and South Africa which strive to achieve greenhouse gas reductions through voluntary investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy resources in commercial establishments.

Similarly, IIEC is working with a business association in Chile to provide training and technical assistance to owners of small- and medium-size businesses to introduce energy efficient practices into their operations, thereby increasing the profitability of their businesses.

Another notable climate-related activity within the Institute is its sustainable transport work. In South Africa, in partnership with the Department of Minerals and Energy, we launched a transport reduction programme known as the Clean Commute. The Clean Commute initiative features innovative mechanisms such as car-pooling and van-pooling schemes as well as flexible work hours and tele-commuting options to reduce the impact of single-occupancy vehicles on South Africa’s roads. This initiative complements the transport work conducted in Asia which involves working with national and municipal transportation and related agencies to identify policy frameworks supporting mitigation of transportation related system improvements which allows economic growth within an environmentally-benign transport system.

In spite of economic slowdown in the last three years, Asia is still considered as the driving force of the global economy for the next millennium. Over the past three years, IIEC-Asia has expanded from its Bangkok hub to add satellite offices staffed by local energy, finance, and development professionals in Manila, Beijing and Mumbai.  

One programme that exemplifies the Institutes’ partnership approach to the climate-energy connection is the Green Buildings and Green Resorts Voluntary Programme in the Philippines which is aimed at promoting energy efficiency measures in commercial buildings and resorts particularly in the growing cities in the Philippines such as Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.

The two-year project is funded through a grant assistance from the United States Agency for International Development. Select commercial buildings and resorts are identified for pilot-testing. Energy audits are conducted and partnership between the building owner/ operator, the electric distribution utility and energy service company is established. The entry of the energy service company and the utility is crucial in ensuring project sustainability. These entities also collaborate in expanding the project to other commercial and government buildings that are interested in taking part in the voluntary programmes.  

The programme is also linked to Earth Day 2000 (22nd April). Earth Day 2000 is being coordinated internationally, and will focus on sustainable energy. By linking the programme to an international environmental event, we hope to provide a strong incentive for building owners to commit to take early action. Initial reaction from the Philippine private sector has been extremely enthusiastic.

In reaching out to the greatest number of stakeholders, the Green Buildings project is closely coordinating with NGOs, professional and business organizations such as architects, electrical engineers, building operators and hotel and resorts associations. The project provides technical briefings and skills training on developing building efficiency measures. Training local partners is a way of developing local capacity and ensuring project sustainability.

To date, six commercial buildings have already been identified for the pilot project. Energy audits will be conducted to determine the potential energy and cost savings. Seeing the economic and environmental benefits of building efficiency, local governments have also requested IIEC to include government buildings in the project.

Overall, the project’s strategy can be summed up into the following roles: initiator, by marketing efficiency and conducting initial energy audits; match-maker, by linking up interested building operators with the utility and the energy service company; and, concept-developer, by documenting and monitoring the different project experiences, the Institute is able to build a wealth of learning experience that can be replicated in other countries.

The global challenge posed by the threat of climate change requires action both at the international and at the local levels. While nations are locked up in the  perpetual debate of mostly north-south issues, concrete actions to address climate change have to be manifested by the year 2001. IIEC is one of a growing number of NGOs working with public and private sector partners to link energy issues with broader development goals. Climate change is, in many respects, a convenient programmatic hook upon which the issues surrounding sustainable energy can be attached and gain greater visibility.

In order to influence the global discourse on climate change, we must all bring the success stories we discover to the attention of the convention negotiators and to public policy makers in both the developing countries and the industrialized world. We must continue to work together to prove that economic development and greenhouse gas mitigation are not antithetical and that responsible environmental action can be consistent with economic growth policies based on energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies.

Further information

Griffin Thompson, IIEC, 1015 15th Street NW, Suite 600, Washington DC 20005, USA. Fax: 1-202-3265172. Email: Web:

Lando Velasco, IIEC-Manila, Manila Observatory Building (Rm 5), Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Road, Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108, Philippines. Fax: 63-2-4266493. Email:

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