Recent progress

The global rate of improvement in energy efficiency falls in 2020 after a slight progress in the previous year

The rate of global primary energy intensity improvement - defined as the percentage decrease in the ratio of global total energy supply per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) - is the indicator used to track progress on global energy efficiency.

The pace of improvement in energy efficiency slowed to 0.6 percent in 2020, down from 1.8% averaged in the decade before. This is primarily due to lockdowns and travel restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, along with significant shifts in the global economy that coincided with the initial lockdowns. In 2021, the low improvement trend continued as a strong rebound of energy demand outpaced energy efficiency improvements. These improvement levels are far from the 3.4% average annual improvement needed to achieve the SDG7.3. However, considerable recent improvements as a result of new policies and energy security measures suggests that a recovery is expected in 2022, with energy intensity improving at a rate of 2 percent even above historical levels.

Energy intensity measured in terms of primary energy and GDP

This indicator is derived from energy data sourced on a joint dataset built by the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Statistics Division. GDP data is sourced from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators database.

Outlook for energy intensity

In the Stated Policies Scenario, intensity improvements show the fastest progress in developing economies

In the STEPS, intensity improvements accelerate in most regions.

Recently, a number of significant energy efficiency policies globally are expected to improve energy intensity, including NDCs announced at the COP26 and other measures to face the energy crisis. As a result, overall global energy intensity in the Stated Policies Scenario is expected to decrease by 2.4% per year on average from 2021 to 2030. This is faster than the average rate of 1.8% in the last decade (2010-2020) but nonetheless falls short of the 3.4% annual improvement now required to meet the SDG 7.3 target for 2030. The fastest progress observed in emerging and developing economies is in developing Asia, where energy intensity improves at an annual rate of 3.4% between 2020 and 2030.

The NZE charts a path to meeting the objectives of SDG 7, even exceeding the energy intensity objectives set out in target 7.3. In this scenario, the global rate of energy intensity improvement accelerates to over 4.3% on average to 2030. This rate is higher than the SDG 7.3 goal but is necessary if the world is to follow the narrow, but plausible pathway in the NZE. Much of the potential for energy intensity improvement in this scenario comes from the switch to electric vehicles for transport, improvements in efficiency across industrial sectors and stringent building energy codes for both new and existing buildings, including the electrification of space heating in buildings.