“Our old flat was very cold. The wooden windows did not prevent the winter from joining us in our living room!” says Marina, a mother of four children from Mahiliou in eastern Belarus. She and her husband Pavel used their savings to replace the old window frames with new ones, but the ventilation system still brought condensation and mould.
Marina’s family is one of 433 participating in the project Improving energy efficiency of residential buildings, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and implemented by UNDP and the Department of Energy Efficiency of the Belarusian Government. A total of 92 buildings across the country, including three newly constructed pilot projects in the cities of Minsk, Hrodna and Mahiliou, have been insulated to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The new homes include facilities such as district heating, new ventilation systems, solar collectors and ground source heat pumps, which have resulted in huge reductions: energy consumption in the pilot homes has decreased 3 to 3.5 times compared to buildings constructed before 2,000 and by 40 to 50 percent compared to new multi-apartment buildings. GHG emissions are expected to decrease by at least 24,000 tonnes in the pilots. And 2,100 men, women and children will no longer be exposed to cold and humidity in their homes.
Svetlana is another participant from Mahiliou who enjoys her new flat where she can regulate the temperature during cold winters and hot summer days. “The air is so fresh and pleasant here. I am very happy we are living here now,” she says. A UNDP organized training brought the 433 families up to speed on energy efficient practices in their homes, and over 1,000 energy auditors, developers, buildings inspectors and public authorities were trained on the new technologies as well. “It is very easy and comfortable,” says Svetlana’s husband Sergey. “It is very good that we started building homes like this. The air will be cleaner and there will be less CO2 emissions.”
Energy efficiency to fuel the 2030 Agenda
Since the early 1990s, energy efficiency (SDG target 7.3) has increased in Belarus, which is now just below the global average according to Tracking SDG 7: Energy Progress Report 2018. The share of renewables (target 7.2) has also increased during the same period of time, reaching 6.8 percent in 2015 — but still significantly below the world average of 17.5 percent.
Transitioning to a more environmentally-friendly economy and creating economic opportunities for everyone are top priorities for the Belarusian Government and have been highlighted by the UN Development System through the dedicated MAPS (Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support) engagement with the country. Improving energy efficiency and strengthening investments in renewable energies have been identified as key action areas to that end.
The numbers speak for themselves. The residential sector in Belarus is responsible for over 20 percent of the electricity consumption, over 40 percent of heat consumption and represents a third of the country’s GHG emissions. Improved energy efficiency has a massive potential to spur SDG progress through decreased carbon footprints, creation of green jobs, economic growth and improved health and well-being. Indeed it has been estimated that transitioning residential buildings into energy efficient structures could reduce GHG emissions by more than 130,000 tonnes per year and decrease government spending on imported fuel by more than US$17 million annually. And while Belarus has committed to keep greenhouse gases in 2030 at 28 percent below 1990 levels, estimates show that if all new buildings in the country adopted energy efficient technologies, the commitment could be increased to 36 percent.
Worldwide, energy efficiency has improved since 2010, by and large due to improvements in the industrial sector. But progress has been more hesitant elsewhere. Transmission and distribution losses, as well as residential energy consumption, remain high in low-income and lower middle-income countries, such as Belarus. Experts assess that greater policy commitments, new technologies, accelerated integration of energy performance standards in buildings, more cross-sectoral approaches — promoting for example fiscal incentives — and greater efforts in end-uses such as heating, cooling and transport, will be needed to reach the targets by 2030.
In Mahiliou, Marina is happy with her new home. “Since moving into the new flat last year, our lives have changed for the better,” she says. Svetlana agrees, she used to live in a home with her three children, husband and mother-in-law, with insufficient ventilation and heating. “The new place is much better and healthier. It’s pennies from heaven,” she says.
In 2017, Belarus presented its first Voluntary National Review on the country’s progress of the SDGs at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York, an annual UN-led meeting that brings together ministers, business leaders and civil society. Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015, countries come together in July each year to tell the world how they are implementing the Goals — including their best practices and current challenges to move the SDGs from paper to practice.
The SDG Deep Dive series aims to illustrate how the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) impacts development and showcase early results from the first years of this transformative plan for humanity. Through snapshots of the work from around the world, the stories show how countries and communities are moving the SDGs from paper to practice, with UNDP’s support. Want to know more or let us know about your SDG contribution? Follow us on Twitter @UNDP_SDGs or connect via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text by Catharina Klingspor; photos by UNDP Belarus