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Climate-Friendly Cooling Can Slow Global Warming

As global temperatures rise and demand for air conditioning and refrigeration soars, all countries must adopt common-sense initiatives to make cooling more efficient, less emissions-intensive, and more affordable for consumers. Without rapid action, runaway climate change will be far harder to prevent.

SANTA BARBARA/SAN DIEGO – The ironies of climate change are often cruel. In our warming world, for example, the demand for air conditioning (AC) and refrigeration is exploding, especially in developing countries. But more AC units lead to more warming, both from the refrigerant chemicals they contain and the electricity they use. Globally, cooling can account for up to half of peak electricity demand during the hot season, which is getting longer and longer.

A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), based on data gathered by a team we co-chaired, shows that the transition to energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling – using refrigerants that pose a lower global-warming threat – is technically and economically feasible. Adopting the best currently available technologies for both refrigerants and energy efficiency could eliminate the equivalent of up to 460 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2060, an amount equal to eight years of global greenhouse-gas emissions. By 2030, emissions equal to those of nearly 1,600 medium-size peak power plants would be avoided.

Eliminating the “super pollutant” refrigerants known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) is critical, as is increasing the energy efficiency of cooling equipment. Otherwise, emissions from this sector alone could use up the remaining “carbon budget” for capping global warming at the “safe” threshold of 1.5°C relative to pre-industrial times.

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