By Margaux Marzuoli
Having discussed the critical need to move away from fossil fuel combustion as a source of energy, as well as potential solutions, the third part of this article draws attention to the importance of local and non-governmental actors in the fight to reduce our energy consumption.
The Importance of Local & Non-Governmental Actors
Cities are crucial actors in the fight towards reducing our energy consumption, as they are responsible for 70% of energy-related carbon emissions. Moreover, their importance is set to grow due to increasing urbanization, with the United Nations projecting there will be over 1 billion additional urbanites by 2030.
To accommodate for this move, infrastructure projects will need to be built and this is where local governments can choose to minimize their future emissions. Indeed, while the legislative capacities of municipal governments vary per country, municipalities often can, at least, influence environmental regulations, energy systems, urban transportation, and other sectors which are highly relevant to the production of emissions.
Further research shows that non-state and subnational actors also have an important role to play in enabling actions that reduce carbon emissions. Partnerships between municipalities and local movements have been proven to be useful in “bringing on board underrepresented actors; contributing to the NDC implementation; emphasizing the 1.5 °C target and associated social justice concerns; and by providing ideational and material support.” Whether through social movements or entrepreneurial communities, scholars claim that the implementation of individual commitments made by regions, cities and businesses “in ten major economies could reduce emissions by 3.8%–5.5% in 2030”.
The Case of The Hague & Duurzaam Den Haag
In 2020, energy used in households represented 27% of the final energy consumption in the EU. That same year, the Netherlands was also the country that relied the most on natural gas (67.9%) – a non-renewable and environmentally damaging source of energy – to meet its needs in the residential sector. Its residential sectors’ high use of environmentally damaging natural gas, has led to the formation of local efforts which seek to address the urgent need to reduce people’s energy consumption in the Netherlands. One interesting organisation, which is actively involved in this effort, is that of Duurzaam Den Haag (DDH). DDH is a local and non-governmental organization that strives to make the Dutch city of The Hague more sustainable, notably by helping individuals reduce their energy consumption at home.
Turning Awareness Into Action
Over the years, DDH has initiated multiple campaigns that have sought to demystify the energy transition and make people understand what it is to live sustainably. These have been quite successful with one reducing the ecological footprint of 322 residents by 31 football pitches for 30 days. Beyond awareness campaigns, DDH also supplies residents of The Hague with energy coaches that can provide specialized advice on how they can reduce their energy consumption. This can range from changing light bulbs to better insulating their homes through the installation of insulated solar panels and heat pumps. This exchange of knowledge is enhanced by DDH being embedded in different sectors of society. For instance, when residents wish to apply DDH’s recommendations, energy coaches offer advice on which subsidies to apply for, and can put residents in direct contact with contractors. Moreover, minimal adjustments like changing shower heads and light bulbs are free of charge (paid for by the municipality) and can be installed by the energy coaches. This has shown to drastically improve the accessibility of sustainability. In 2021, more than 60 energy coaches carried out 406 advisory visits, leading to the implementation of 208 energy saving measures. In a personal interview, the organization claimed that appointments made with energy coaches doubled in 2022.
Nevertheless, DDH’s initiatives have also shown to be limited by several factors. For example, there is a widespread misconception that the organization can only provide help to homeowners, and not tenants. This notion stems, in part, from the fact that there is little incentive for tenants to invest in a home that they are going to leave soon. This is the reality for many people living in Laak, where a local energy coach claims that tenants don’t stay in the neighborhood for more than five years. Second, although there has been a significant increase in appointments made with energy coaches, the organization reveals that only 50% of homeowners make the recommended adjustments. This is in large part due to the economic cost of certain adjustments. One homeowner expressed that he was unable to make the necessary adjustments because contractors are currently overworked, mentioning that there is a scarcity on the supply side. Finally, although DDH regularly targets residents with small budgets in its campaigns, the type of people that contact DDH seems to be limited to those that already have an ecological conscience, raising the important question of how best to reach those who do not.
In addition to helping reduce resident’s energy consumption, it is important to highlight the social dimension of DDH’s impact. Indeed, in creating a space for dialogue and choosing to support resident groups and their initiatives, the organization has empowered citizens and helped cultivate social links. In turn, this has increased residents’ engagement with and commitment to the energy transition. These initiatives have also generated more action, such as community centres being renovated and equipped with solar panels. Such initiatives have had a positive impact on these communities’ social and economic development, especially since DDH chose to include residents in the financing of these projects and the ownership of the energy generated by the solar panels.
The depth of DDH’s epistemic and social impact on The Hague’s sustainability cannot be understated. Although DDH has not achieved significant institutional or political change, the organization’s work demonstrates the importance of local action. The example of DDH confirms that, in addition to there being a wide range of actors able to impact our energy consumption, there are a plurality of solutions available. Moreover, DDH shows that local and non-governmental actors can be successful in initiating change; and demonstrates the importance of having a “middleman” to reduce the space between initiative and action.
Edited by Maurice Wedner-Ross, artwork by Olga Churilina