A United Nations Development Program solar energy project. With the European Union, the UNDP is involved in the “Home Owners of Ukraine for Sustainable Energy Solutions," or HOUSES project. It seeks to improve energy efficiency of residential housing. Photo by Helene Robert/UNDP Ukraine

Originally published in Kyiv Post on 25 December 2019

New inequalities are being triggered by technology and climate change, and they are increasingly determining people’s opportunities in the 21st century. These two seismic shifts, if left without a response, could undermine democracy and jeopardize sustainable development by increasing inequalities in society.

We’re only just realizing the pitfalls of our rapidly changing information technology, from privacy issues, to disinformation spreading across the internet. Climate change, however, has long been on the horizon. We know some of its problems, but we also know some solutions for them.

Climate change does not respect borders and affects every living creature on earth. It’s easy for individuals to feel overwhelmed at the sheer scale of this phenomenon: We must have all asked ourselves at one point how our own actions – the actions of just one person – could possibly make any difference.

Of course, one person acting alone, not in concert with others, rarely makes a difference, notwithstanding the efforts of people like Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg or the famous Ukrainian environmental activist Eugеnia Aratovska.

But there is something we can all do: The key is to get organized and passionate about making a change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions: Just as the climate crisis was created by companies, individuals, communities and countries working together doing the same (damaging) things, the key to solving it means working together as well.

Here in Ukraine, the United Nations Development Program, or UNDP, is taking a multi-pronged approach to tackling the issue of climate change. The focus of our programmatic efforts is on enhancing energy security through investing in energy efficiency in public and private buildings and encouraging the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind power and biomass for generating heat and energy.

Ukraine is among the top ten most energy-intensive economies in the world, with the energy intensity of Ukraine’s economy being three times higher than that of the EU. Compounding that problem is the fact that so much of Ukraine’s energy is generated from fossil fuels – 70 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector. Moreover, high energy intensity coupled with aging and inefficient heating systems and heavy dependency on imports of gas and oil poses a real threat to energy security.

Over the past decade, some progress has been made in enhancing energy efficiency in public and private buildings. UNDP in partnership with the EU is implementing a project called “Home Owners of Ukraine for Sustainable Energy Solutions” or HOUSES for short.

As the name suggests, this project seeks to mobilize Ukrainian homeowners and motivate them to improve energy efficiency in the buildings where they live. At the local level throughout the country, the project supports the creation of Home Owners Associations, which are intended to develop energy efficiency improvement projects and apply for financing to the newly established Ukrainian Energy Efficiency Fund.

Effectively, the project created links in an organizational chain stretching from individual homeowners to the level of the state, and since this chain has the aim of improving energy efficiency it helps in tacking multiple problems – Ukraine’s inefficient use of energy, its energy dependence, the need for infrastructure improvements, which in turn impacts the over-arching problem of climate change.

Over the lifetime of the HOUSES project, which runs until September 2020, nearly half-a-million Ukrainians should benefit directly from the implementation of energy efficiency measures, and over 1 million should have their awareness raised about the energy efficiency issue. That’s a lot of individuals, their actions linked together by one project, who together WILL make a difference!

But what about public buildings, where ownership (and responsibility) is diffused through the state, rather than belonging to a specific person or organization?

Here, UNDP, along with the Global Environment Facility support, is taking a different approach, through using what is called the “ESCO” modality. The approach involves linking energy service companies (that’s what ESCO stands for), and the state through 10 pilot sub-projects to increase energy efficiency in public buildings. The project, called “Removing Barriers to Increase Investment in Energy Efficiency in Public Buildings in Ukraine through the ESCO Modality in Small and Medium-Sized Cities,” works by setting up a Financial Support Mechanism, through which private investment can be channeled through energy service companies to carry out energy-saving projects. Energy monitoring systems are also put in place to gauge the results of interventions and ensure gains are retained.

The project is vital because it’s estimated that 50 percent of the energy that goes to heat Ukraine’s 78,000 public buildings is simply wasted due to poor insulation, out-of-date heating systems, and the like, according to the State Agency on Energy Efficiency and Energy Saving of Ukraine data.

And it’s not just heating energy that’s the target of savings – Ukraine’s building sector consumes an estimated 25 percent of all the electricity used in Ukraine, so even measures such as replacing old lighting with new, energy-efficient bulbs falls under the project’s remit. That’s where the energy monitoring systems come in – they are used to identify leakages of energy, from unnecessary continuous lighting to poor wall insulation, and draughty windows and doors.

Through simple energy savings measures, implemented via private investment, the project is achieving impressive savings both in terms of money for local budgets, and in savings on emissions of greenhouse gases. For example, the town of Chortkiv in Ternopil Oblast through its UNDP-led energy-saving project saw electricity consumption in its public buildings in 2018 drop by 111.5-megawatt hours, or by 4.9 percent, which translates into a reduction of 26.1 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Such savings, replicated across Ukraine, would soon add up, and translate into a measurable impact on Ukraine’s energy use and economic statistics, and together with the efforts of other countries, this will start to have an impact on climate change. Part of the purpose of the ESCO project is indeed to blaze a trail for others to follow, introducing a replicable approach for towns and cities across the country to implement.

With just these two examples from UNDP’s work in Ukraine, I hope you can see how the actions of the individuals can indeed make a difference – it just takes a bit of organization to get people, companies, organizations and governments working together towards the same goals.  Climate change is not yet irreversible, and we know what we have to do to limit its effects. It’s time every one of us to ACT-Together-NOW, since time is of the essence!

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