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Global energy efficiency gains are slowing

Adapted from IEA's Energy Efficiency 2019 report; Chart: Axios Visuals

New International Energy Agency data out Monday shows just paltry advances in global energy efficiency last year.

What they found: Primary energy intensity — that is, amount of energy needed per unit of GDP — improved by just 1.2% in 2018. That's the third consecutive year of declining gains and the slowest improvement since 2010, the agency said.

Where it stands: IEA lists several reasons for the slowdown, including...

  • Big structural forces, like consumer preferences for bigger cars and growth in average per-capita residential floor area.
  • Higher 2018 production from energy-thirsty industries in the U.S. and China.
  • Slowdown in the toughening of mandatory efficiency policies.
  • Weather, with a hot U.S. summer and a cold winter, driving up energy use.

Why it matters: Improvements in efficiency are an important tool for fighting climate change.

  • But IEA says the global pace is nowhere close to what's needed to help get the world on a pathway consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement.

What they're saying: “We can improve energy efficiency by 3% per year simply through the use of existing technologies and cost-effective investments," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

  • "Ambitious policies need to be put in place to spur investment and put the necessary technologies to work on a global scale," he adds.