Cooling for a Warming World: Global Commitment to Tackle Rising Air-Conditioning Emissions
U.N. Warns that by 2050 electricity use for cooling could double, driving up the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
In a world experiencing the impacts of climate change, the United Nations warns of a surge in air-conditioning use that could contribute to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The latest voluntary pledge at the U.N. climate talks in Dubai involves 60 nations committing to enhance the efficiency of new air-conditioners by 50 percent and reduce related emissions by nearly 70 percent by 2050.
As temperatures rise globally, the demand for air-conditioning is expected to double by 2050, posing a challenge to tackle the associated increase in electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. John Kerry, the American President Biden’s climate envoy, emphasises the need to find climate-friendly ways to cool down, laying out a pathway to reduce cooling-related emissions across all sectors. (Like sustainable fans perhaps?)
The surge in electricity use also raises concerns about escalating greenhouse gas emissions, as special refrigerant gases used in air-conditioners contribute to global warming when leaked into the atmosphere. If current trends persist, the U.N. report predicts that 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 could result from air-conditioning and cooling efforts.
To address this pressing issue, the U.N. Environment Program’s executive director, Inger Andersen, highlights the importance of sustainable cooling solutions that do not compromise the ongoing energy transition or intensify climate impacts. The report suggests adopting advancements such as “passive” cooling technology (like we go on about, looking back through history architects used to rely on!), improved insulation, and reflective surfaces to keep the world cooler without a significant increase in energy use.
The world urgently needs more cooling, especially considering that 1.2 billion people in 77 countries are at high risk due to a lack of access to cooling, according to a recent analysis. Many vulnerable populations lack access to modern cooling technology, affecting health, livelihoods, and even hindering vaccine access.
While global temperatures continue to rise, the report estimates a tripling of cooling equipment worldwide by 2050, straining electricity grids, particularly in developing economies. The potential for reducing emissions lies in the world’s wealthiest economies, with passive cooling measures, improved energy efficiency, and a stringent phaseout of high-polluting refrigerants playing a crucial role.
Furthermore, a rapid transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar for powering air-conditioners could significantly decrease cooling-related emissions. As the world grapples with the challenges of a warming planet, the commitment from 60 nations to enhance air-conditioner efficiency marks a positive step towards a more sustainable and climate-friendly future.