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UN: Climate-friendly cooling could cut years of CO2 emissions
Coordinated international action on energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling could avoid as much as 460bn tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly equal to eight years of global emissions at 2018 levels – over the next four decades, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The report: Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report: Benefits of cooling efficiency and the Kigali Amendment calls for international cooperation through universal ratification and implementation of the Kigali Amendment, which aims for the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – potent greenhouse gases found in refrigeration technologies. Phasing out HFCs has the potential to avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century, says the report.
The report also highlights the importance of improving cooling efficiency across the board, from buildings to cold chain logistics for healthcare and food security. This is especially important due to the expected growth in the numbers of cooling appliances. Worldwide, an estimated 3.6bn such devices are currently in use. The report says that providing cooling to everybody who needs it – and not just those who can afford it – would require as many as 14bn cooling appliances by 2050, which would contribute significantly to climate change.
Improving energy efficiency would also bring many other benefits, says the report, such as improved air quality, reduced food loss and waste, and a stronger cooling infrastructure to prevent vaccine loss – a prescient issue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IEA estimates that doubling the efficiency of air conditioning by 2050 would reduce the need for 1.3 TW of additional electricity generation capacity to meet peak demand: the equivalent of all the coal-fired power generation capacity in China and India in 2018. Worldwide, doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioners could save up to $3tn by 2050 in reduced electricity generation, transmission and distribution costs alone.
The report lays out the policy options available that can make cooling part of sustainable development initiatives, including:
- National Cooling Action Plans that accelerate the transition to climate friendly cooling;
- development and implementation of minimum energy performance standards and energy efficiency labelling to improve equipment efficiency;
- promotion of building codes to reduce demand for refrigerant and mechanical cooling, including integration of district and community cooling into urban planning; and
- sustainable cold chains to both reduce food loss – a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – and reduce emissions from cold chains.
‘As governments roll out massive economic stimulus packages to deal with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to accelerate progress in efficient, climate-friendly cooling,’ said Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director. ‘Higher efficiency standards are one of the most effective tools governments have to meet energy and environmental objectives. By improving cooling efficiency, they can reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions and save consumers money.’