Climate Change

UNEP proposes action plan to reduce emissions from cooling sector

Measures could slash predicted 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by 60%

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Tuesday 05 December 2023
Photo: iStock

Implementing a slew of measures to make the global cooling sector sustainable could cut predicted 2050 greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

The cooling sector accounts for 20 per cent of electricity use and is essential in combating rising temperatures, maintaining food quality and safety, as well as keeping vaccines stable and economies productive. 

Though the cooling sector needs to grow, it is leading to more warming. With current policies, the installed capacity of cooling equipment such as air conditioners and refrigeration globally will triple, resulting in a more than doubling of electricity consumption between now and 2050. 

The resulting emissions could be between 4.4 billion and 6.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2050. This is equal to more than 10 per cent of global projected emissions that year.

The new proposed action plans include passive cooling (such as cool roofs, ventilation and bringing nature back to cities), higher energy efficiency standards, and a faster phasedown of climate-warming refrigerants and air conditioning, recommendations from the Global Cooling Watch Report stated.

“The world can deploy nature-based and passive cooling measures such as insulation, natural shading and ventilation. Adopt higher efficiency standards, including minimum energy performance standards and labelling,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said in a statement. 

The final proposal is to accelerate the phasedown of climate-warming hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) faster than what is required under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

The Kigali Amendment is an international agreement to reduce the consumption and production of HFC. This is expected to prevent the emissions of up to 105 billion tonnes of CO2e of greenhouse gases, avoiding up to 0.5 degree Celsius of global temperature rise by 2100, the UNEP said. 

At 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the host country United Arab Emirates and the Cool Coalition launched the Global Cooling Pledge. Over 60 countries signed up to the Pledge with commitments to reduce the climate impact of the cooling sector.

The global average efficiency of all cooling equipment operating in 2050 would need to be almost tripled with the available technologies, the report noted. 

Steps such as accelerating the uptake of low-global warming potential technologies in all new equipment and refrigerant life-cycle management to prevent leakages and end-of-life emissions can reduce HFC emissions by 50 per cent in 2050.

Further, decarbonising the power grid could reduce sectoral emissions by 96 per cent. “I am asking governments and the private sector to get behind the cooling pledge to design policies and provide the necessary financing,” Anderson said at a press briefing on December 5, 2023. 

Passive cooling and efficient cooling equipment will save consumers $17 trillion in 2022-2050. It is also projected to reduce the peak power requirement by 1.5-2 terawatts (TW), avoiding power generation investments in the order of $4 trillion to $5 trillion.

The G20 countries, according to the report, represent 73 per cent of the potential for reducing cooling emissions to 2050, of which the G7 countries account for 11 per cent.

Presently, more than 40 countries, including India, have developed National Cooling Action Plans (NCAPs), and 25 others are at various stages of preparing theirs as well. Though India and China have included implementation mechanisms in their NCAPs, the rollout has been slow.

In India alone, effective life-cycle refrigerant management could mitigate around 2 billion tonnes of CO2e emissions by 2050, the report highlighted. The action plans proposed by UNEP will require legislative frameworks and financing. 

Alfanso Garcia Mora, Regional Vice President, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, International Finance Corporation, highlighted four ways of achieving sustainable cooling. Governments, he said, need to introduce standards and help private companies overcome high upfront costs. Real estate developers, businesses and consumers should be more aware, he added.

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