As much as 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, or eight years worth, could be prevented from being released over the next four decades by setting tougher standards on air conditioning appliances, a new study has found.
Published Friday by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), the study found that stringent actions to make air conditioning systems more effective could reduce between 210 to 460 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2060.
According to the report, countries could achieve the change by regulating the reduction of climate-warming refrigerants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — potentially avoiding as much as 0.4 degrees Celcius of global warming by the end of the century.
An estimate by the IEA predicts that doubling the efficiency of air conditioning by 2050 would also reduce 1,300 gigawatts of electricity use — the equivalent of all coal-fired power generation capacity in both China and India in 2018.
By 2050, as much as US$2.9 trillion could be saved in reduced electricity generation, distribution and transmission should air conditioning efficiency be doubled worldwide.
The report estimates that there are currently 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use — a figure that can rise to 14 billion by 2050 if air conditioning becomes available to everyone that needs it instead of just those who can afford it.
“Nations must deliver massive cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions to get on track to limit global temperature rise this century to 1.5 C. This is critical to minimizing the disastrous impacts of climate change,” Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director said a press release.
The study said that an increased demand for cooling is contributing to the global climate change problem due to the prevalence of fossil-fuel-based energies that are powering air conditioners. The demand, which comes as a result of already rising global temperatures, has since created a vicious cycle.
In Canada, both room and central air conditioners must meet minimum efficiency standards that have been in place since 1995.
Standards differ between the type of air conditioning system, but generally fall within energy efficiency ratios of between 9.0 to 14.0
Further benefits from more efficient air conditioning were also described in the study, ranging from increased access to life-saving cooling appliances to store medicines and vaccines to improving air quality and reducing food waste.
Increasing the efficiency of cooling appliances — such as those that help with the deployment and storing of temperature-sensitive medicine — has now become increasingly relevant given the race to develop a vaccine to help immunize against COVID-19.
“As governments roll out massive economic stimulus packages to deal with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to accelerate progress in efficient, climate-friendly cooling. Higher efficiency standards are one of the most effective tools governments have to meet energy and environmental objectives,” said Dr. Faith Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
“By improving cooling efficiency, they can reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions and save consumers money. This new report gives policymakers valuable insights to help them address the global cooling challenge.”
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