Assessment of Climate and Development Benefits of Efficient and Climate-Friendly Cooling

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The planet has already warmed 1ºC or more since pre-industrial times, and at the current pace will add 50% more warming to surpass 1.5ºC as early as 2030, reaching levels outside human experience and making it more difficult for human and natural systems to adapt. As temperatures continue to increase, heat waves will become more frequent and intense, and societies will necessarily adapt by using more air conditioning and refrigeration to reduce heat-related illness and death, ensure continuing productivity, and minimise food loss. This implies a potentially very large additional demand for electricity with additional carbon emissions. Fast policy action can keep the growing demand for cooling from using up a significant amount of the remaining carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5°C. The global phasedown of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol will make a crucial contribution to slowing climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. An even faster phasedown could be achieved with a more extensive replacement of high-GWP HFCs with commercially available low-GWP alternatives in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. Climate emissions also can be reduced by collecting HFCs at the end of the useful life of cooling equipment and either recycling or destroying them. Such strategies could avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100. Transitioning to high efficiency cooling equipment can more than double the climate benefits of the HFC phasedown in the near-term by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and black carbon from the electricity and diesel used to run air conditioners and other cooling equipment. This also will provide significant economic, health, and development co-benefits. Doubling the energy efficiency of stationary air conditioning by 2050 would reduce the need for 1,300 gigawatts of generation capacity, the equivalent of all the coal-fired power generation capacity in China and India in 2018, and would almost halve annual electricity costs per capita for space cooling in 2050. Reducing energy demand, by improving cooling efficiency and reducing the need for cooling by improving building and urban design, can reduce energy-related air pollutant and climate emissions thereby contributing to improved public and ecosystem health. Robust policies to promote the use of best technologies currently available for efficient and climate-friendly cooling have the potential to reduce climate emissions from the stationary air conditioning and refrigeration sectors by 130–260 GtCO2e by 2050, and 210–460 GtCO2e by 2060. A quarter of this mitigation is from phasing down HFCs and switching to alternatives with low global warming potential (GWP), while three-quarters is from improvimg energy efficiency of cooling equipment and reducing electricity demand, which helps achieve a more rapid transition to carbon free electricity worldwide. The mobile air conditioning sector, where energy consumption is expected to nearly triple by 2050, offers significantly more mitigation potential. Policies and financing strategies can promote fast HFC phasedown in parallel with improvements in energy efficiency of cooling equipment. The significant climate and development benefits available from fast action to phase down HFCs and improve the energy efficiency of the cooling sector have been widely recognized by various international initiatives and collaborations.

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