Armenian kindergartens light the way

The SDG Deep Dive series aims to illustrate how the 2030 Agenda 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 2030agenda@undp.org.

Five-year-old Vardan likes his new kindergarten. “It’s warm, and has lots of light. I love the new bed, though I wish it was softer, just like the clouds,” he says.

When kindergarten N 160 in the north-eastern district of Kanaker-Zeytun in Yerevan, Armenia re-opened its doors in December 2017, it had been fully renovated to improve energy efficiency, reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide a better learning environment for children.

Five-year-old Vardan likes his new kindergarten but wishes the beds were softer.

The beds still might not feel like clouds, but new radiators, efficient appliances, an LED lighting system and a complete insulation of the building have led to a 39 percent decrease in spending on gas and electricity and a reduction of CO2 emissions by 23 tonnes. For children and teachers, the renovations mean warmer rooms during cold Armenian winters, cooler ones during the country’s long heat seasons and better reading light.

Sona Shamakhyan is the head of the kindergarten. “Last winter we had to cover windows with plastic bags to keep the rooms warm, but the rooms are heated now and bedrooms have air inlets installed in windows. This new environment just boosts creativity,” she says. Aside from the environmental and health related gains, reduced energy costs have also freed up budget for social and creative activities, such as sports and drama, improving the kindergarten’s curricula.

Before the renovation, teachers lined windows with plastic to keep classrooms warm.

Energy efficiency boosts impact across SDGs…

The renovation of the kindergarten in Kanaker-Zeytun is a result of a partnership between the municipality of Yerevan and UNDP, initiated in 2017. It is part of a larger project, financed through the Green Climate Fund, to de-risk and scale up investments in energy efficient building retrofits. An additional 30 kindergartens, as well as single-family houses, multi-apartment buildings, hospitals and cultural centres will be upgraded before 2023, with a total of 210,000 people expected to benefit. The project — involving the Government of Armenia, local municipalities and UNDP — also aims to catalyze further private and public-sector financing in energy efficiency retrofits, leading to energy savings and CO2 reductions between 4.4 million and 5.2 million tonnes over the investments’ 20-year lifetime.

In Armenia and globally, the building sector is a major energy consumer.

The building sector is indeed a major energy consumer — globally and in Armenia. The country’s 2010 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory states that almost 28 percent of primary energy resources are consumed in buildings, mostly in the residential sector, comprising 20 percent of total GHG emissions. And most Armenian households have high energy expenditures relative to income (14–20 percent of the budget), putting many at risk of fuel poverty. This does not only affect individual households but also public budgets. According to a recent survey of educational, municipal and healthcare buildings, electricity bills represented 11–20 percent of their total annual spending and were particularly high for educational buildings.

The head of the kindergarten, Sona Shamakhyan, says the improved environment boosts creativity.

To change this pattern, Armenia has adopted a number of policies and plans in recent years, including a National Energy Security Action Plan 2014–2020 and a National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, aiming to boost production of renewable energy, particularly hydro and solar power, and increase energy efficiency in the industry sector as well as in urban and rural communities. New standards for businesses and households have also been adopted to guide the country towards a more sustainable energy consumption.

Indeed energy efficient practices can be a key tool for reducing CO2 emissions and combatting climate change but also for generating positive effects that reach across the entire 2030 Agenda, including the social and economic pillars. A case in point: the project in Kindergarten N 160 and other buildings in Armenia aims to contribute to green jobs creation and to reduce poverty by cutting public and household costs on electricity and gas.

…but the world is challenged to meet energy targets by 2030

Since the early 1990s, Armenia has been on an improving curve, with energy efficiency (SDG target 7.3) increasing in line with the global average. However, according to Tracking SDG 7: Energy Progress Report 2018, the country was slightly less energy efficient than the global average in 2015 (the latest year from which the report displays data). But this is only one part of the puzzle. Armenia has also seen a sharp increase in the percentage of final energy consumption coming from renewable energy sources (SDG target 7.2), which more than doubled between 2014 and 2015 — from 7.7 to 15.8 percent.

With the installation of new radiators, efficient appliances, an LED lighting system and a complete insulation of the building, the renovation led to a 39 percent decrease in gas and electricity costs.

On a global level, additional efforts are needed to meet the targets under SDG 7 — Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all — by 2030. According to the Energy Progress Report, efficiency has increased 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. 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.

Mother Lida Babalaryan says her son was more motivated to go to school after the renovation.

On Tuesday 17 July, Armenia is presenting its first Voluntary National Review, describing the country’s progress on the SDGs at the High-level Political Forum in New York. Strengthening energy efficiency, introducing renewable energy technologies, enhancing the renewable energy capacity and promoting solar energy have been underlined as high priorities for the Government, as well as investing in education and awareness-raising of sustainable energy practices.

Armenian kindergartens can light the way towards 2030. Children across the country learn about sustainability through stories and games in initiatives to foster more eco-conscious generations. In Yerevan, Lida Babalaryan describes her son Mika’s study motivation in the renovated Kindergarten N 160. “When my son came here for an open class recently, he liked the new rooms so much that he did not want to leave. I am delighted with all the conditions that create a good environment for children’s development,” Lida says. Kindergarten N 160 stands ready to educate generations in a brighter, warmer — or cooler — environment.

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Armenia will present 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. Between 9 and 18 July, 47 countries will tell the world how they are implementing the Goals — including their best practices and current challenges to move the SDGs from paper to practice.

Follow @UNDP_SDGs for news and insights into UNDP’s work on the SDGs.

Text by Catharina Klingspor; photos by UNDP Armenia