Founders Statement on "Energy Emergence" Report

February 17, 2011 | Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus,

Breakthrough Institute founders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger issued the following statement along with the release of a new Breakthrough report, "Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena."

Today Breakthrough Institute releases a new report finding extensive evidence that a large amount of the energy savings from below-cost energy efficiency are eroded by demand rebound, and that in some cases the rebound exceeds the savings, resulting in increased energy consumption from efficiency, known as backfire.

Leading government and international agencies, including the International Energy Agency, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate, and private consultancies such as McKinsey, have ignored or dismissed the strong evidence for rebound and even backfire in the peer-reviewed academic literature, resulting in climate mitigation scenarios that conclude that large emissions reductions can be achieved through greater efficiency. These agencies must, in future studies, take the evidence into account when constructing mitigation scenarios or risk a dangerous over-reliance on energy efficiency in climate mitigation strategies.

Below-cost energy efficiency is critical for economic growth and should thus be aggressively pursued by governments and firms. However, it should no longer be considered a simple and direct way to reduce energy consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.

Rebound and backfire could be mitigated through raising the price of energy. However, given the tight relationship between energy consumption and economic growth, climate mitigation must focus on cutting the relationship between energy consumption and emissions, which means moving to low-cost, zero-carbon energy sources.