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Dump fuel-hungry AC units to cut years of emissions and save trillions: UN report

View of UN headquarters (file)
UN Photo/Manuel Elías
View of UN headquarters (file)

Dump fuel-hungry AC units to cut years of emissions and save trillions: UN report

Climate and Environment

A wholesale switch to efficient, “climate-friendly” appliances could make a huge dent in environmentally harmful emissions, says a new UN report released on Friday.

Access to cooling is essential to maintaining healthy communities, helping to keep food fresh, and economies productive. It has added importance during the current pandemic, making lockdown bearable during periods of hot weather.

However, many air-conditioning units emit carbon dioxide, black carbon and Hydrofluorocarbons (which have thousands of times the warming potential of carbon dioxide), and increasing demand for cooling is contributing significantly to climate change.

An efficient solution

The Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report, from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), shows that up to 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly the amount produced over an eight-year period – could be cut over the next four decades by making air conditioners twice as efficient as they are now: by 2050, it would be possible to save the amount of electricity produced by all the coal-fired power stations in China and India in 2018, saving up to $2.9 trillion.

This action would make a significant contribution towards getting on track to limiting the overall global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is critical to minimizing the disastrous impacts of climate change, says the study.

Nations should seriously consider the move, as they plan their economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Inger Andersen, the Executive-Director of UNEP: “they have an opportunity to use their resources wisely to reduce climate change, protect nature and reduce risks of further pandemics. Efficient, climate-friendly cooling can help to achieve all of these goals”.

Some cool options

The report notes that countries already have several options at their disposal, to make this possible. Signatories to the Kigali amendment to the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, for example, have agreed to reduce the use of Hydrofluorocarbons. National Cooling Action Plans can accelerate the transition to climate friendly cooling, and identify opportunities to make efficient cooling a way to meet their commitments to the 2015 Paris climate accords.

Other options available include implementing minimum energy performance standards, introducing building codes that ensure homes and offices are well insulated and require less cooling, and making temperature-controlled food supply chains more efficient and sustainable.

The peer-reviewed report was authored by a range of experts under the guidance of a 15-member steering committee co-chaired by Mexican chemist and Nobel laureate Mario Molina, who played a key role in discovering the Antarctic ozone hole, and Durwood Zaelke, an American pioneer of environmental law.