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More efficient air conditioning can save 8 years of global greenhouse gas emissions

Cooling equipment such as refrigerators and air conditioners are vital in a warming world, and essential to keeping vaccines viable and avoiding food waste. However, their lack of energy efficiency means that millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions contribute to the atmosphere. UN experts are calling on governments and companies to invest in greener technology.

If the energy efficiency of the refrigeration industry and appliances such as air conditioners is improved, between 210 and 460 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions can be cut over the next four decades, says a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

Some 3600 million refrigeration equipment are currently in use, and demand is increasing as temperatures rise from global warming. If by 2050 everyone in the world had access to this vital service to preserve food and vaccines, among other benefits, up to 14,000 teams would be needed.

Refrigeration contributes significantly to climate change due to emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, carbon dioxide and black carbon from energy generated from fossil fuels that power air conditioners and other household appliances.

The International Energy Agency estimates that, for example, doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioning by 2050 would reduce about 1300 gigawatts of additional power generation capacity to meet peak demand, equivalent to all the power generated by coal-fired power plants in China and India in 2018.

In addition, it could save up to $2.9 trillion by 2050, just considering reducing the costs of generating, transmitting and distributing electricity.

Experts explain that achieving more effective cooling would save the world about eight years of global emissions (at the level of 2018) in the next 40 years.

“Nations must significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to be in a position to limit the global temperature rise in this century to 1.5°C. This is critical to minimise the disastrous impacts of climate change,” recalls the head of the UN environment agency, Inger Andersen.

Andersen says that as nations invest in the COVID-19 recovery, they have the opportunity to use their resources strategically to reduce climate change, protect nature and reduce the risks of new pandemics.

“Efficient and climate-friendly cooling can help achieve all of these goals,” Inger Andersen said.

Using the pandemic as a boost

The essential nature of cooling services is underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic, as temperature-sensitive vaccines will require rapid deployment around the world. In addition, lockdown measures force people to stay in their homes for long periods of time which can become a health problem in many warm countries.

“As governments deploy massive economic stimulus packages to address the economic and social repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to accelerate progress on efficient and climate-friendly cooling. By improving cooling efficiency, they can also reduce the need for new power plants, reduce emissions and save consumers money. This new report provides policymakers with valuable information to support them in addressing the challenge of global cooling,” explains Energy Agency Director Fatih Birol.

Energy efficiency measures would also bring other benefits, such as improved air quality and reduced food loss and waste, the study says.


The report lists some available policy options that can make refrigeration an element of climate and sustainable development solutions, including:

• International cooperation through the ratification and universal implementation of the Kigali Amendment, and initiatives such as the Cool Coalition and the Biarritz Pledge for Rapid Action on Efficient Cooling

• Create national action plans to accelerate the transition to climate-friendly cooling, and identify opportunities to integrate efficient cooling into the most ambitious determined contributions under the Paris Agreement

• Develop and apply minimum energy efficiency standards and energy efficiency labeling to improve equipment efficiency

• Promote building codes and other considerations to reduce demand for refrigerants and mechanical cooling, including integrating district and community cooling into urban planning, improving building design, green roofs, and tree shading

• Campaign to end the waste of environmentally harmful products in order to transform markets and avoid the impact of outdated and inefficient refrigeration technologies

Source: UN News