Paris (AFP) - Voluntary efficiency programmes -- including one targeted for elimination by the Trump administration -- have led to energy savings of up to 30 percent in commercial buildings in Los Angeles, researchers have reported.
Describing their study as the first large-scale analysis of green certification schemes for big buildings, a pair of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles reviewed data on nearly 179,000 properties in the city.
"We found that -- with the programmes -- there is a significant improvement in energy efficiency," said co-author Magali Delmas, an environmental economist.
The Energy Star certification scheme under threat from the Trump administration offers tax credits, rebates and other incentives to commercial building owners to improve energy efficiency.
Besides lowering energy costs, this also contributes to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming, Delmas said.
"These findings are important because they show that voluntary information programmes can be effective to reduce energy and CO2 emissions," she told AFP.
The energy supplied to buildings around the world -- mostly through electricity -- accounts for about one-third of total energy use, which means that gains in efficiency can make a serious dent in global warming.
Based on their findings for Los Angeles, the researchers estimate that a modest 20 percent participation rate for office and industrial real estate in the United States would cut emissions by nearly six million metric tonnes annually.
- 'More efficient choices' -
"This is the equivalent of powering 862,546 homes with electricity each year, or burning 6.23 billion pounds of coal," Delmas said.
The study was published Monday in the journal Nature Energy.
One of the three programmes analysed was set up by the US Green Building Council, a nonprofit organisation.
The other two are operated by the federal government -- Energy Star is overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, while the Department of Energy runs the Better Building Challenge.
The EPA says that since its inception, Energy Star has lowered consumers' electricity bills by $430 billion (400 billion euros) and avoided 2.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
It's annual operating costs are about $55 million (52 million euros).
President Donald Trump was expected to sign an executive order Tuesday to dismantle the EPA's climate change policies, many of them put in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
In a budget blueprint unveiled this month, Trump called for axing dozens of the agency's programmes, including Energy Star.
Exactly why is not obvious, given that the voluntary programme -- which is not a regulation -- helps consumers and businesses save money.
"Without the information provided by Energy Star, customers cannot evaluate the energy efficiency of different products and make more efficient choices," Delmas said.
Many consumers trust the Energy Star label, and depend on it to make smart choices in buying big ticket items, said Robert Cowin, director of government affairs for climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based policy think tank.
"I think the reason that it is marked for elimination in purely ideological," he told AFP.
Beyond the animus against climate change measures, "there's the ideology of what the government's role should be, the idea that the private sector could do it better."
Under the proposed federal budget, the agency's $8.2 billion budget would be cut by more than 30 percent, and 3,200 of its staff would be laid off.
The EPA's Office of Research and Development would see its funding slashed to $250 million from $483 million.
Congress -- which has the final say on budget matters -- may decide not to kill Energy Star, Cowin said.
"I think it will survive," he told AFP. "It has a lot of support on both sides of the aisle."