Leaders gathered at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) are expected to sign a pact to broaden access to a range of sustainable cooling services and technologies, a push that comes with 2023 poised to become the hottest year on record.
The Global Cooling Pledge, led by COP28 host the United Arab Emirates, is designed to make things like air conditioners, deep freezers and heat-dissipating homes more affordable, especially in developing countries, while reining in planet-warming emissions from the sprawling cooling sector.
Why? Cooling is already responsible for over seven percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and demand for cooling is expected to triple by 2050. That is troubling news for a planet on track to warm 3°C by century’s end, twice the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement.
“Many people aren’t aware that growing cooling demand is a major driver of climate change while also being so essential for human health, economic prosperity and food security,” says Lily Riahi, Global Coordinator of the Cool Coalition, which is led by the UN Environment Program (UNEP). “As we confront increasing heat stress and climate shocks, staying cool is ever more critical, especially for the most vulnerable.”
Cooling in itself is not a problem. In-home cooling brings huge relief to people amid rising temperatures and more frequent heatwaves, two byproducts of climate change. Through refrigeration, cooling is also essential for global food security and vaccine delivery.
But today’s mechanical cooling systems, such as air-conditioners (ACs) and refrigerators, are often energy-guzzlers and many use refrigerants that warm the planet. For example, R-410a, a common refrigerant for Acs, is 1,430 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
New modeling from UNEP shows that between 2022 and 2050, under a business-as-usual scenario, cooling is expected to pump an additional 132 gigatons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. What is more, without new funding mechanisms, access to cooling will remain prohibitively expensive for billions in developing countries.
People are increasingly able to afford air conditioners–albeit often-inefficient ones. At the same time, the world is urbanizing, with many moving into poorly designed buildings and neighborhoods that trap heat, making air conditioning vital.
On top of that, as scorching heatwaves become more common, people are increasingly turning to ACs. Refrigeration and cold chains have also expanded to transport fresh food to urban consumers.
There are lots of solutions but they need to be undertaken in harmony to deliver quick wins for the planet. The priorities need to include reducing temperatures in cities and buildings through passive cooling, nature and better design; rapidly improving the efficiency of appliances and cooling systems; increasing the pace of the switch to climate-friendly refrigerants; and increasing access to cooling and cold chains. These changes underpin the recommendations of the Global Cooling Pledge. UNEP News