“The coronavirus crisis is already doing significant damage around the world,” he wrote in March. “Rather than compounding the tragedy by allowing it to hinder clean energy transitions, we need to seize the opportunity to help accelerate them.”
Also this year, the ‘Outlook’ paper for the first time declared that coal was in terminal decline, with gas and then oil to follow in the foreseeable future, and it laid out a scenario on how those nations hoping to reach net zero emissions targets might do so.
This is where the study of our simple daily habits and their impact on climate change comes in.
For example, the IEA estimates that if people in the United States and Australia sought to cool their indoor environments via air-conditioning by just 1 degree celsius less we would cut associated emissions by 8 to 11 per cent on average.
Savings would be more modest in developing nations, where people depend more on fans than on air conditioners, but globally if we set cooling targets 3 degrees higher we would save around 34 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
If drivers increased the settings on air conditioners in their cars, millions more tonnes would be saved. According to the IEA’s research car air conditioning accounts for between 3 per cent and 20 per cent of fuel consumption, depending on climate. If car drivers were to turn up the air conditioning by three degrees, this would reduce emissions from cars by almost 4 per cent, or 90 million tonnes of emissions per year by 2030.
The IEA estimates that on average, clothes dryers alone use around 8 per cent of global energy consumption for domestic appliances. If line-drying were to replace half of this demand (for drying during the six sunniest months of the year) this would save around 70 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions this year, falling to to 30 million tonnes in 2030 as the energy intensity of electricity-powered dryers reduces.
The IEA cites studies showing that washing clothes at 30 degrees instead of 40 degrees (the temperature most commonly used) would reduce energy consumption by around one-third, with similar savings for any other 10 degree reduction by 2030, this would save around 15 million tonnes of emissions, or just under two per cent of those produced by household appliances.
Working from home may also reduce emissions, according to the World Energy Outlook, though the calculations here are more complex. People who have short commutes or do not drive to work might offset any emissions savings in transport by increased domestic energy consumption, but globally the IEA estimates that about 15 per cent of jobs could be performed from home, with more in developed nations than in developing nations.
Taking into account differences in the types of vehicles used for commuting across different regions, the IEA estimates that if everyone able to do so were to work one extra day at home per week, this would save around 25 million tonnes of emissions globally in 2020, reducing to 18 million tonnes per year by 2030 as cars become more efficient.
A further 100 million tonnes could be saved if ride sharing increased to account for half of all urban trips.
The paper makes it clear that if we are to have any change of meeting Paris Targets the vast majority of emissions savings must be made by the immediate and determined efforts of governments, industry and financial markets backed by close cross-border cooperation.
But the IEA does make the case that in the most ambitious scenario it charts – the one in which nations seek to reach net zero – behavioural changes will need to be adopted as well.
Even in this case though political action is crucial. The IEA estimates that around 60 per cent of the emissions reductions from behaviour changes should be influenced or mandated by governments.
Nick O’Malley is National Environment and Climate Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is also a senior writer and a former US correspondent.