What does doubling global progress on energy efficiency entail?

More rigorous polices to boost electrification, energy and resource efficiency, and behaviour change

The IEA’s landmark Net Zero Roadmap, which was updated in a new report released in October 2023, sets out an ambitious but achievable pathway to global net zero emissions by mid-century. One of a series of interim steps to achieving this is to double the rate of average global primary energy intensity improvement from the 2022 level just over 2%, to slightly above 4% until 2030. This rate of improvement would mean that energy demand in 2030 is nearly 10% lower than in 2022, even as the global economy expands by almost 30%.

Groups of actions contributing to a doubling in the rate of annual primary energy intensity improvements in the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario


The IEA Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE Scenario), which serves as the basis for the Net Zero Roadmap, also illustrates a path to achieving this doubling of efficiency improvement through a range of key actions across sectors. These energy intensity improvements stem from three equally important global actions:

  • Switching to more efficient fuels (0.7 percentage points). This comes in large part from electrifying incumbent fossil-fuelled systems, for example with heat pumps in buildings and electric vehicles in transport. Electric technologies are radically more efficient in providing energy services, leading to significant efficiency gains. Universal access to clean cooking in lower-income countries is a 2030 milestone in the NZE Scenario, with the switch to clean cookstoves leading to further improvements in efficiency.
  • Improving technical efficiency (0.7 percentage points). Significant savings can be made through new building construction, better renovations, more insulated buildings; using more efficient air conditioners, motors, refrigerators and other appliances; driving more fuel efficient vehicles; and improving industrial processes that use less energy.
  • Using energy and materials more efficiently, leading to avoided demand (0.8 percentage points). Examples include changes in behaviour by consumers such as adjusting space heating temperatures, and opting for public transport, walking or cycling over private car journeys. Minimising the material content of products while recycling metals and plastics can also radically reduce the energy required to manufacture them. Increased circularity and more efficient supply chains and shifts to services and lower energy intensive activities also will have a large role to play. 

Doubling means different things to different countries depending on how close they are to 4% today

For a range of reasons countries have experienced differing levels of progress towards improving energy intensity in recent years. These can span economic and structural dimensions, levels of electrification, the efficiency policies that have been developed and the technologies available.

Critically, the aim to double energy intensity progress is an ambitious global target. No major country has sustained an annual average improvement exceeding 4% for a full decade, and a step change is required by every government if it is to be met. However, countries that have made stronger progress in recent years need relatively fewer improvements to surpass the 4% level.

Primary energy intensity improvement, 2012-2021, and Total Energy Supply in 2021 in selected countries


Doubling the global rate of energy intensity improvement this decade is challenging, but not unprecedented

Doubling efficiency progress is a challenge requiring higher policy ambition and investment from governments and industries. But many nations have already set a precedent for achieving it during limited periods. Of the 150 countries for which data exists since 2012, almost all (91%) improved energy intensity by 4% or more at least once and more than half (53%) did so at least three times. For the members of the G20 nations, whose progress contributes a greater weight toward the global target, 75% of countries exceeded 4% or came close with annual improvements above 3% at least once in every four years.

Energy intensity progress, number of years above 2%, 3% and 4% for G20 countries, 2010-2022


The challenging task ahead for governments, however, is to meet this benchmark consistently for the rest of the decade. Four G20 countries – China, France, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom – have in recent years managed to sustain an average of 4% or more over a continuous five-year period, with several others coming close. 

The policies and technologies are already in place to achieve doubling in almost all areas

In most sectors, governments can make rapid progress towards doubling by building upon existing policies and accelerating the deployment of already-available technologies. This is illustrated by examining governments’ existing Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) – which set a minimum performance level for products sold – and comparing them with the efficiency levels of those products compatible with the NZE Scenario. The strength of these regulations varies widely among countries, but many are already at or very close to levels set out in the NZE Scenario. If all governments were to implement standards to these levels across all key sectors, then they would collectively achieve a doubling of energy efficiency progress in this domain.

Minimum Energy Performance Standards, IEA Efficiency Policy Level Index Key end-uses, global country range, 2023 and 2030

Minimum Energy Performance Standards Iea Efficiency Policy Level Index Key End Uses Global Country Range 2023 And 2030
Minimum Energy Performance Standards, IEA Efficiency Policy Level Index Key end-uses, global country range, 2023 and 2030
Minimum Energy Performance Standards Iea Efficiency Policy Level Index Key End Uses Global Country Range 2023 And 2030

For example, lighting standards in the European Union, India, Japan, South Africa and the United Kingdom are already at or exceed the level set out in the NZE Scenario. Similarly, all motors within a certain output range sold in the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, Türkiye and the United Kingdom must adhere to the efficiency class IE4 or better. Similar cases can be found for building regulations, and vehicle standards improvements set to come into force in 2030, for example in the United States and European Union.

However, having MEPS in place is only part of what is needed. Regulations must be implemented and, crucially, rigorously enforced as part of a policy package that includes financial incentives and information for consumers. In combination, this ensures not only that the poorest-performing technologies are eliminated from markets, but that consumers can be incentivised towards purchase of the most efficient products. Increasing the replacement rate of old inefficient equipment with new more efficient equipment is key as is consumer choice. 

Doubling efficiency progress could cut energy bills by a third and make up 50% of emissions reductions by 2030

Achieving the doubling target by 2030 is a critical step if governments are to get on track to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. In terms of energy savings alone, global demand in the NZE Scenario is almost 100 EJ less in 2030 than today –savings roughly equivalent to the entire final energy consumption of China in 2022.

Key actions to double efficiency progress – namely improvement in the technical efficiency of buildings and equipment, material efficiency, behavioural changes, and greater electrification – reduce emissions by more than 7 Gt in 2030 in the NZE Scenario relative to 2022, accounting for nearly half of all cumulative emissions reductions over the period.

Cumulative savings by mitigation measure in the Net Zero scenario, 2022-2030


Emission changes over time by mitigation measure in the Net Zero Scenario, 2022-2030


For consumers, the energy savings brought about by doubling efficiency progress would result in significant savings in energy bills. Today’s energy bills in advanced economies could be lowered by a third, for example. Wasting less energy also results in a smaller energy system that requires less physical infrastructure. Doubling would therefore also provide substantial cost savings to industry and governments.

The energy efficiency-related measures needed to achieve the doubling target would result in the creation of around 4.5 million jobs in 2030 compared to today, with more workers needed to help retrofit buildings, install energy-saving technologies and manufacture more efficient vehicles. This is around 1.5 million more jobs in 2030 than is seen in the Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS). The bulk of new efficiency jobs come in the buildings and industrial sectors with around 3 million jobs for activities such as building retrofits, heat pump installation, putting in place industrial energy management systems and efficiency upgrades, and the manufacture of other efficient equipment. In the transport sector, on balance an overall 1.5 million new jobs are created in the NZE Scenario, driven by the substantial growth in electric and more efficient vehicle manufacturing as well as with batteries.