Efficient appliances, lighting, and equipment are critical climate solutions, situated at the nexus of mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development.
However, not enough is being done to maximize their benefits. In this paper, CLASP lays out actions that must be taken by 2030 to put us on a pathway to net zero emissions (NZE) and enable a just energy transition. CLASP identified the ten appliances most vital to meet global climate mitigation targets and improve people’s lives: the Net Zero Heroes.
Appliances1 are cornerstones of life, essential for productivity, wellbeing, and—increasingly—coping with global warming and its associated hazards. From providing life-saving cooling services to offering new income-generating opportunities, efficient appliances are key to climate-resilient development and a productive, low-carbon future for all.
Efficient appliances and equipment strengthen climate resilience – driving access to cooling, information and food security, and improving health and productivity – and enable several of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.2
However, appliances have a major climate impact. They are responsible for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions globally. This staggering amount is harming people and the planet—and the total annual energy demand and emissions from appliances are only increasing.3,4
Figure A: Global Total Energy-Related CO2 Emissions by Sector (2021)5
To estimate the total climate impact of the appliances sector, CLASP has combined emissions from residential and commercial buildings, the electric motor-driven systems used in industry, and biomass cooking and heating.
CLASP modeling finds that appliances are not on track to do their part in reaching NZE by midcentury and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (℃). In a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, CLASP estimates that the appliance sector will surpass the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s NZE mitigation target by at least 9 Gt CO2 in 20506 (Figure B). Even if countries universally adopted current global benchmark appliance efficiency policies, 2050 emissions would exceed the NZE mitigation target by at least 7 Gt CO2.
Without dramatic change, appliances will exceed their share of the renewable energy budget. IEA’s Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap calls for adding a huge amount of renewable energy generation capacity to the grid. The 9 Gt CO2 emissions in excess of NZE referenced above would result from the additional fossil fuel power generation required to power appliances under BAU.
Figure B: CO2 Emissions Under BAU & Global Benchmarks Scenario
Simultaneously, appliances are not on track to benefit all who need them. 3.6 billion people live in regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, and many of those same people still lack access to even the most basic appliances needed to adapt to a warming world.
This paper estimates the size of the access gap for ten types of appliances and equipment with important climate adaptation, resilience, and other human development benefits. For example, at least 1.2 billion people lack access to an air conditioner or fan for space cooling (Table A). Without urgent action, inequitable gaps in appliance access will persist, undermining the delivery of a just energy transition.
Table A: Appliance Access/Ownership (Latest Year Available)
|Appliance||Base Population* (billions)||Population that owns appliance (billions)||Population that does not own appliance (billions)||Percentage of the population that owns appliance||Percentage of the population that does not own appliance|
|Air Conditioners & Fans||2.4||1.2||1.2||50%||50%|
|Solar Water Pumps||2.1||0.0||2.1||1%||99%|
Despite these dire projections, we can get on track with Net Zero targets by supercharging efforts to improve appliance energy efficiency. Appliance efficiency is a proven, cost-effective climate mitigation strategy and an enabler of end-use electrification, grid decarbonization, and expanded access to life-changing appliances. Improved efficiency can lead to greater climate resilience and adaptation by improving affordability, thereby bringing appliances within reach of more people.
Net Zero Heroes: An urgent call for people-centered climate action, focused on increasing the energy efficiency of ten appliances.
CLASP has identified the appliances at the core of achieving NZE by 2050, improving quality of life, and enabling climate change adaptation and resilience: the “Net Zero Heroes.” CLASP has set recommended energy efficiency and other targets for each Net Zero Hero, as shown in Table B.
Table B. Net Zero Heroes: Targets & Projected Impacts
Meeting CLASP’s Net Zero Heroes would:
- Avoid 9.2 Gt of CO2 in 2050 relative to BAU, enabling appliances to do their part in meeting the IEA’s Net Zero goal.
- Reduce exposure to climate risks and improve quality of life through enhanced food security and economic opportunity for over 100 million people.
- Improve health outcomes for nearly 100 million people.
In Figure C below, we graph emissions for the appliances analyzed in Mepsy under the Net Zero Hero scenario as well as the Global Benchmarks and BAU scenarios. The Net Zero Hero scenario is the only scenario that can sufficiently drive down energy use and emissions to keep net zero goals alive. As policies aligned to the targets shown in Table B come into effect, emissions are projected to fall significantly after 2025 to 1 Gt in 2040 and 0.6 Gt in 2050.
The Net Zero Heroes are focused on appliances with mitigation potential. However, for maximal climate resilience impacts, products like mobile phones and radios could also be prioritized to close access gaps.
The Net Zero Heroes can be scaled—made more efficient, affordable, and accessible—through proven, cost-effective policy and financing mechanisms.
Figure C. CO2 Emissions Under BAU, Global Benchmarks & Net Zero Heroes Scenarios
CLASP calls on all actors to align their efforts with the Net Zero Hero targets and do their part to ensure initiatives for Net Zero Heroes are funded, implemented, and scaled at a rate never seen before.
Concerted action is required. Achieving the targets for all Net Zero Heroes will require governments, manufacturers, and others to act with speed and focus. In many cases, governments and others may face trade-offs between actions for the Net Zero Heroes and other appliance efficiency solutions. With little time left to meet the targets in Table B, it is imperative to prioritize Net Zero Hero targets even if it leads to a delay in other solutions.
To support a just energy transition, CLASP also advocates for broadening the climate adaptation and energy access agendas to include and prioritize efficient appliances.
This would require underscoring the critical role of appliances in climate-resilient development and expanding the focus of the energy access agenda to include access targets for appliances and equipment along with new connections and kilowatt hours (kWh). Additional analysis is needed to identify, assess, and calibrate appliance access goals and map the pathways to closing existing access gaps.
- Increase the stringency of appliance policies and the frequency of revision at the speed and scale needed to achieve Net Zero Hero Targets. Appliance policies such as minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and energy labels are critical tools. Adopting the levels recommended in United for Efficiency (U4E)’s Model Regulation Guidelines and CLASP’s World’s Best MEPS is a good start, but will not be enough. Governments will have to redouble their efforts and go much further to reach CLASP’s Net Zero Hero targets, outlined in Table B.
- Bring other measures to bear. CLASP recommends a suite of policies and market development programs that work to clear the market of the most inefficient products (via MEPS), promote the adoption of efficient appliances (via comparative labels, financing and financial incentives, bulk procurement, and awareness-raising efforts), and drive technology innovation (via research and development funding, awards and competitions, and endorsement labels). Governments will need an “all of the above” approach to drive efficiency improvements and electrification at the speed and scale necessary to achieve the targets in Table B.
- Plan, track, and measure. Develop roadmaps with specific, time-bound targets for appliance efficiency improvement and enhanced access to efficient appliances. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should incorporate appliance efficiency into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Net Zero Roadmaps. Countries with significant energy access deficits should integrate access to efficient appliances into their national electrification plans, clean cooking strategies, and sustainable economic development plans. Regular data collection about appliance ownership and usage should be utilized to help governments track which interventions are supporting households and the marketplace, and inform additional action. Market surveillance should be used to confirm compliance with policies.
- Maximize the multiple benefits of efficient appliances by taking an intersectional approach to designing ambitious plans and policies. Appliance-focused measures can deliver important equity, health, economic, environmental, climate, and energy security benefits simultaneously. Policies designed with only one of these as a goal risk missing out on the others. Stakeholders will need to come together across sectors (e.g., health, development, agriculture, and environmental justice) to set goals consistent with the targets in Table B and design policies and programs to reach them.
- Collaborate internationally to stop the dumping of inefficient appliances. Regional harmonization of standards and cooperation on market surveillance across borders can help block substandard appliances. These efforts benefit all countries in the region. Appliance-exporting countries should go further and discourage the production of all appliances that do not meet domestic efficiency, refrigerant, or other requirements. Uniform guidance across importing and exporting markets can send clear signals to manufacturers that inefficient appliances are no longer acceptable.
- Expand the capacity of local manufacturers to produce efficient appliances. In some countries, training and technology transfer will be needed to ensure Net Zero Heroes can be manufactured domestically. Where appliance manufacturing provides jobs, such measures could be indispensable to obtaining broad support for appliance policies and effecting a just energy transition.
Manufacturers & Distributors
- Produce only appliances and equipment that meet Net Zero Hero targets and avoid dumping low quality products in lower income markets. Appliance manufacturers should stop producing appliances that do not meet minimum standards in their countries of origin and exporting them to markets that have less stringent standards. They should instead use their influence to promote the sale of more efficient appliances across the globe. For greater impact, manufacturers can join forces through industry associations and global initiatives such as U4E, EP100, and the We Mean Business Coalition. Such efforts can help companies achieve their own NZE and other climate targets.
- Steer consumers toward the Net Zero Heroes. Distributors’ stocking decisions have enormous influence on what consumers buy. Distributors also influence how appliances are labeled and presented in stores and online. Appliance distributors should work in concert with manufacturers and governments to shift consumers’ purchases toward high-efficiency appliances and accelerate the phase-out of fossil-fueled appliances.
Donors & Financial Institutions
- Increase funding for appliance efficiency and access programs. All actors from both the public and private sectors will need to do more to accelerate the pace of progress. Energy supply has benefitted from subsidies for many years. Financial support on the demand side will be needed for everything from appliance policy development and technology transfer to market surveillance and consumer financing. Efficient appliances sit squarely at the nexus of climate mitigation and adaptation and can deliver benefits for people and the planet simultaneously. Appliance programs should be funded accordingly.
- Leave no one behind. Governments and development partners must deploy end-user subsidies and concessional financing to ensure everyone can access energy-efficient appliances, as a just energy transition demands. Consumer financing plays a critical role in lowering the first-cost barrier, especially for low-income consumers and those living beyond the reach of the electric grid. Stimulating demand for efficient appliances is just as important in rural electrification efforts as ensuring that the electricity supply is sufficient, reliable, and sustainable. Financing that enables rural households to purchase and operate good-quality appliances will lead to an increase in electricity demand, which in turn improves the economics of further investment in grid extension and distributed renewable energy.
Civil Society Organizations
- Advocate for efficient, affordable appliances. Efficient appliances deliver important benefits to consumers. Policymakers, manufacturers, and others need to know that these benefits matter to consumers, especially to low-income consumers who struggle most with high energy costs and low access to energy services. Consumer, energy, environmental, and health advocates must argue vigorously for ambitious, people-centered climate action and hold decision makers accountable for meeting the targets in Table B.
For a full list of references and endnotes, please download the report PDF.
0. Throughout this paper, we use the term “appliances” to refer to appliances, lighting, and equipment.
1. *Note: SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 2: Zero Hunger, SDG 3: Good Health & Wellbeing, SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 5: Gender Equality,SDG 6: Clean Water & Sanitation, SDG 7: Affordable & Clean Energy, SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth, SDG 10: ReducedInequalities, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities, SDG 13: Climate Action, SDG 15: Life on Land
2. CLASP, “Mepsy: The Appliance & Equipment Climate Impact Calculator,” Database, 2023, https://clasp.shinyapps.io/mepsy/.
3. IEA, “Appliances and Equipment” (Paris, France: IEA, 2022), https://www.iea.org/reports/ appliances-and-equipment.
4. CLASP analysis of IEA, “World Energy Outlook 2022,” tbl. WORLD_TFC_STEPS, WORLD_CO2_STEPS, with indirect emissions apportioned among sectors using IEA, “CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion,” 2020, tbl. SECTOR, SECTORH, ignoring any electrification between 2018 (latest year available) and 2021. Energy used for desalination, estimated at 2 EJ and originally included in Buildings by IEA moved to Other.
5. This 9.2 Gt estimate includes the mitigation potential for the following appliances: motors, space heating, ACs, lighting, refrigerator-freezers, TVs, fans, solar water pumps and electric cooking