While air conditioning may seem a luxury, it’s becoming more of a necessity.
Last year was warm, the fourth-warmest year on record, and it extended the trend attributed to global warming and the climate emergency. One of the consequences of the rising temperatures – and the rising incomes of earth’s growing population – is the demand for more air conditioning to stay cool.
While air conditioning may seem a luxury, especially to people in the developing world, it’s becoming more of a necessity. Some 30 percent of the planet’s population is already facing dangerously high temperatures for 20 or more days each year, according to the United Nations Environment Program. In the more extreme cases, that’s causing 12,000 deaths each year now with the potential to be worse.
Much worse. That’s why the new Cool Coalition formed in April, with a group of governments, corporations and NGOs focused on how to deliver cooling desperately needed in the cities of tomorrow. Across Asia and Africa, where access to energy and cooling technology are evolving, it will be a matter of life and death.
The number of air conditioners in use is expected to rise from 1.2 billion today to 4.5 billion by 2050. If the trends don’t change, then emissions from the sector will grow 90 percent by 2050 over 2017 levels. Essentially, the 12 GtCO2e in emissions from cooling will equal a fourth of all global emissions we knew in 2017. That spells disaster as we try to ward off the worst effects of climate change.
“In a warming world, cooling is a necessity, not a luxury. We need to provide it to the vulnerable populations who currently have no electricity,” said CEO Rachel Kyte of Sustainable Energy for All.
“This necessity is something that can be delivered within a 1.5 degree-pathway,” she assured, but that means a concerted effort to improve cooling technologies. “We need to provide sustainable cooling at speed and scale so that we can ensure everyone has safe food, safe vaccines and comfort at work. Hundreds of millions of people at risk today from extreme heat need protection and we must protect them in a way that also protects the planet from increased carbon emissions.”
There’s some positive news, because phasing out the old hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) systems under the now-active Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is expected to deliver almost 0.4°C in warming that never happens – and that’s a big deal. Quite apart from averting ozone layer damage, the old refrigerants could release greenhouse gases that were 10,000 times more potent than CO2.
A potential economic savings of USD$2.9 trillion also is possible through 2050 if the drawdown on HFC use is coupled with energy efficiency, according to the International Energy Agency. That’s one reason for the private sector’s participation in the Cool Coalition mission to improve access without impacts.
“ENGIE is committed to working towards a carbon neutral world, which we cannot achieve without sustainable cooling,” said Isabelle Kocher, CEO of the utility provider based in France.” We have a real opportunity to make huge energy efficiency gains on the path to carbon neutrality, but we need governments, civil society and the private sector to work together.”