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Being energy efficient is essential to curbing climate breakdown 

How Nova Scotia and Canadians can make their footprint smaller—and keep their lives relatively similar

Efficiency Nova Scotia will help optimize your house with energy-saving lightbulbs. - STOCK
  • Efficiency Nova Scotia will help optimize your house with energy-saving lightbulbs.

Inefficient systems are everywhere. From crosswalks that switch sides of the street at each intersection, to third-floor apartments with heat so high the windows spend the entire winter wide open—while across the street a renter who pays for heat themselves puts on an extra sweater to save a buck.

Providing the same, or better, services with less energy is critical to curbing climate breakdown. The International Energy Agency says energy efficiency alone could provide more than 40 percent of the emissions reductions needed by 2040 to meet Paris Agreement targets.

The world is getting better at saving energy, but not fast enough to counterbalance growth or meet climate targets. Globally, we're improving at about 1.8 percent a year, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on 1.5 degrees Celsius says annual investments in low-carbon technologies and energy efficiency need to increase by a factor of six, relative to 2015 levels.

Technologies that allow us to do more with less energy have been improving dramatically. In Canada, innovators are designing buildings that collect solar heat in the winter, and use more and better insulation, heat pumps and smart thermostats. (Hot tip: there's a chance your home qualifies for a free smart thermostat from Efficiency Nova Scotia.)

Dawson Creek's energy plan supports building audits and retrofits, LED traffic lights and a solar-ready bylaw, and proposes local improvement charges to fund it. The sports centre in Colonsay, Saskatchewan, heats its waiting and observation areas with captured heat from ice-making at its rinks. Cities like Oslo, where renewable energy from waste powers 80 percent of its heating system, are incentivizing energy efficiency with a fund to pay for initiatives.

Saving energy saves money, especially for low-income households that pay proportionally more for it. While energy-efficient buildings may cost more up front, energy savings can recover those costs within five years. Some jurisdictions are exploring ways to make upgrades more accessible to low- income households. Efficiency Nova Scotia will come to your home and upgrade lightbulbs, put in energy-saving power bars, wrap your hot water tank and hot water pipes, and change shower heads and taps to low-flow faucets, all for free.

That said, lower costs prompt some consumers to use more energy, creating a rebound effect and eroding climate benefits. Marrying efficiency to good climate policy can help avoid backsliding.

In addition to saving money, energy efficiency creates jobs. According to Energy Efficiency Canada, more than 436,000 people work in the energy-efficiency sector. That's about 2.3 percent of all jobs in Canada—more than in the oil and gas sector. Businesses predicted a growth of more than eight percent this year.

Changing industry practices may prove the biggest challenge. About eight percent of global energy use comes from metals and building material production. If we use less cement, steel and aluminum, we can reduce the energy required to extract, refine and transport them.

Credible climate plans must include strategies such as accelerating clean power, shifting to electrification, pricing pollution and using energy wisely. Moving from our throwaway economy to a less wasteful circular model will reduce the energy needed to power it and meet the rapid carbon emission reductions the IPCC prescribes.

We need to consume less, share more, design for efficiency and long life, and make refusing, repairing, reusing and recycling our go-to options. a

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications and Policy Specialist Theresa Beer.

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