The global need for better cooling

Monday, 22 January, 2024

The global need for better cooling

Unless drastic action is taken, the cooling sector presents an alarming threat to our rapidly warming planet. This was the overriding message of ‘Keeping it Chill: How to meet cooling demands while cutting emissions’, a report published during the COP28 climate talks in Dubai.

Initiated by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Cool Coalition, the report found that cooling equipment currently represents 20% of total electricity consumption, with this figure expected to more than double by 2050 based on current growth trends.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the industry’s power consumption will increase, alongside leakage of refrigerant gases, most of which have a much higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Under a business-as-usual scenario, emissions from cooling are predicted to account for more than 10% of global emissions in 2050.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The report states that if key measures are taken to reduce the power consumption of cooling equipment, this would cut at least 60% off predicted 2050 sectoral emissions, provide universal access to life-saving cooling, take the pressure off energy grids and save trillions of dollars by 2050.

The report was released in support of the Global Cooling Pledge, a joint initiative between the United Arab Emirates as host of COP28 and the Cool Coalition. Over 60 countries have signed up to the Pledge with commitments to reduce the climate impact of the cooling sector.

“The cooling sector must grow to protect everyone from rising temperatures, maintain food quality and safety, keep vaccines stable and economies productive,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

“But this growth must not come at the cost of the energy transition and more intense climate impacts. Countries and the cooling sector must act now to ensure low-carbon cooling growth. Fortunately, the solutions are available today. Getting energy-efficient, sustainable cooling right offers an opportunity to cut global warming, improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people and realise huge financial savings.”

Climate change, population and income growth, and urbanisation are all contributing to an increased demand for cooling. Around 1.2 billion people in Africa and Asia lack access to cooling services, putting lives at risk from extreme heat, reducing farmers’ incomes, driving food loss and waste, and hindering universal vaccine access.

Rising demand for often inefficient equipment, including air conditioners and refrigerators, will require large investments in electricity generation and distribution infrastructure. Inefficient equipment will also result in high electricity bills for end users, particularly in Africa and South Asia, where the fastest growth is predicted.

“The private sector has a huge role to play in financing and driving innovation to advance sustainable cooling, which can help fulfil vital local development needs and support global carbon reduction targets. We are pleased to contribute to the Global Cooling Stocktake Report and to support the Global Cooling Pledge,” said Makhtar Diop, Managing Director, International Finance Corporation.

What steps can be taken?

The report lays out sustainable cooling measures in three areas: passive cooling, higher energy efficiency standards and a faster phase-down of climate-warming refrigerants. Following the measures outlined in these areas would deliver the previously mentioned 60% in cuts; adding in rapid power grid decarbonisation would reduce sectoral emissions by 96%.

Passive cooling measures

Passive cooling measures — such as insulation, natural shading, ventilation and reflective surfaces — can dramatically reduce cooling loads. These can be provided, in part, by the development and enforcement of building energy codes that incorporate passive cooling, as well as through urban design.

Such strategies can curb the growth in demand for cooling capacity in 2050 by 24%, result in capital cost savings of up to US$3 trillion in avoidance of new cooling equipment and reduce emissions by 1.3 billion tons of CO2e.

Higher efficiency standards

Higher efficiency standards and better labelling of all cooling equipment would triple the global average efficiency of cooling equipment in 2050 from today’s levels, delivering 30% of modelled energy savings, lowering energy bills and improving the resilience and financial viability of cold chains.

Critical implementing policies include regularly updated Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), financial instruments to encourage demand for higher efficiency products and regulations to avoid the dumping of low efficiency cooling equipment into developing countries.

Kigali Amendment

The world has committed to phasing down HFCs through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol — a global deal designed to protect the ozone layer and slow climate change.

Faster action is possible and can achieve a halving of HFC emissions in 2050 — compared to the Kigali phase-down timetable — through rapid uptake of better technologies in new equipment, better refrigerant management and stronger national enforcement.

Finance is critical

According to the report, the sustainable cooling transition will be made affordable through total life cycle cost savings of $22 trillion ($17 trillion in power cost savings plus $5 trillion in power generation investments). Existing business models need to be scaled to use these savings to reduce upfront costs and make the transition affordable for all.

Financial tools include on-bill financing (when a utility pays for an upgrade and recovers the cost through monthly power bills), risk-sharing facilities, public and private investments, green mortgages and seed financing for cold chains. For many developing countries, dedicated concessional finance will be needed as well as incorporating sustainable cooling criteria into banks’ lending practices.

“As temperatures rise, it is critical that we work together to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions from the cooling sector while increasing access to sustainable cooling,” said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 President.

“This access is especially important for the most vulnerable communities, who have often contributed the least to climate change but are the most exposed to its impacts.”

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