17 Jul 2019 Story Environmental rights and governance

What you should know about sustainable cooling

First, cooling is vital for both health and prosperity

Second, business-as-usual cooling will be a disaster for the planet

Third, getting cooling right is a major opportunity

Fourth, Asia will be key for the development of sustainable cooling technologies

Conventional cooling devices—such as refrigerators, room air conditioners, industrial scale chillers and other devices—account for as much as 10 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than twice the emissions generated from aviation and maritime combined.

Cooling contributes to climate change by increasing demand for electricity, much of which is still generated from fossil fuels, and through leakage of refrigerants, which have a much higher global warming potential than CO2 emission. If left unchecked, emissions from cooling are expected to double by 2030 and triple by 2100, driven by heat waves, population growth, urbanization, and a growing middle class. Business-as-usual cooling generates a vicious cycle: as the world gets hotter, increased demand for cooling drives up levels of greenhouse gas emissions that, in turn, drive up temperatures and make access to cooling even more critical, all while endangering human safety and livelihoods.

Efficient, affordable and sustainable cooling in developing countries can help alleviate poverty, reduce food loss, improve health, manage energy demand and combat climate change. This approach has the potential to advance the internationally agreed goals of the Paris Climate Agreement; the Sustainable Development Goals; and the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment. Halving food loss with refrigeration and food cold chains could feed about 1 billion undernourished people. There are investment opportunities in bringing sustainable cooling solutions to market, and there are cost-saving opportunities in commercial and industrial facilities by installing efficient cooling equipment.

Policies and regulations must be put in place to reduce the need for cooling in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Buildings constructed with better thermal systems through improved insultation, increased air flow and cool roofs, greatly reduces the need for mechanical cooling. Policy tools can also be used to improve urban planning, for example through expanding green spaces in cities. Incentives can be used to change people’s behavior towards a reduced use of cooling and a greater interest in using energy-efficient appliances. There is need to make cooling applications in transport and logistics more efficient and climate-friendly while providing greater access to cold chains for safe transport of food and medicine, which benefits both rural and urban population.

Governments can incorporate sustainable cooling in their climate pledges (nationally determined contributions) and ensure that sustainable cooling considerations are included in energy, urban, transport, agricultural and health service projects, among others. On the supply side, governments can act swiftly to encourage manufacturers to improve the energy efficiency of their cooling products and to lower the global warming potential of refrigerants in line with or exceeding the obligations under the Montreal Protocol. Governments can put in place minimum energy performance standards and labelling schemes for air conditioners.

Institutions can reduce the cost of equipment by promoting mass purchasing, deployment and training of cooling technicians with the objective to improve equipment, maintenance, financing and business models to deliver cooling services. Institutions can further ramp up the generation and use of renewable energy, including through thermal storage solutions in supermarkets and large buildings to better manage peak electricity demand.

For more information, please contact: Jim.Curlin[at]un.org I Jo.Chona[at]un.org.