Doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioning by 2050 would reduce the need for 1,300 gigawatts of additional electricity generation.

That figure is the equivalent of all the coal-fired power generation capacity in China and India in 2018.

Worldwide, doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioners could save up to $US2.9 trillion by 2050 in reduced electricity generation, transmission and distribution costs alone.

These figures were included in the Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report which was released by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) on Friday.

The report was a call to action for the HVACR industry and governments worldwide. 

It found that energy efficient cooling with climate-friendly refrigerants could avoid the equivalent of up to 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere through 2060 – roughly equal to eight years of global emissions at 2018 levels.

It also found that the number of cooling appliances worldwide is set to quadruple by 2050 from 3.6 billion now to 14 billion, contributing greatly to rising world temperatures.

Reductions of between 210 and 460 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-(CO2) equivalent emissions can be delivered through actions to improve the cooling industry’s energy efficiency together with the transition to climate-friendly refrigerants, according to the report. 

It called on countries across the globe to implement the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

Signatories to the Kigali Amendment including Australia have agreed to reduce the production and use of climate-warming refrigerant gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This step alone has the potential to avoid as much as 0.4°C of global warming by 2100.

Executive director of the UN’s environment program, Inger Andersen, said nations must deliver massive cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions to get on track to limit a global temperature rise this century to 1.5°C.

Andersen said this is critical to minimizing the disastrous impacts of climate change.

“As nations invest in COVID-19 recovery, they have an opportunity to use their resources wisely to reduce climate change, protect nature and reduce risks of further pandemics,” he said. “Efficient, climate-friendly cooling can help to achieve all of these goals.”

The report highlights the importance of cooling to maintaining healthy communities; fresh vaccines and food; a stable energy supply, and productive economies.

The essential nature of cooling services is underlined by the COVID-19 pandemic, as temperature-sensitive vaccines will require quick deployment around the globe; lockdowns forcing people to stay at home for long periods of time are a health concern in many hot countries.

However, increasing demand for cooling is contributing significantly to climate change. This is the result of the emissions of HFCs, CO2, and black carbon from the mostly fossil fuel-based energy that powers air conditioners and other cooling equipment.

IEA executive director, Dr Fatih Birol, said higher efficiency standards are one of the most effective tools governments have to meet energy and environmental objectives.

“By improving cooling efficiency, they can reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions and save consumers money,” Birol said.

“This new report gives policy makers valuable insights to help them address the global cooling challenge.”

Worldwide, an estimated 3.6 billion cooling appliances are in use. The report says that if cooling is provided to everybody who needs it – and not just those who can afford it – this would require as many as 14 billion cooling appliances by 2050.

Action on energy efficiency would bring many other benefits, such as increased access to life-saving cooling, improved air quality and reduced food loss and waste, the report said.

 The 48-page peer-reviewed report also recommends:

Sustainable cold-chains to both reduce food loss – a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – and reduce emissions from cold chains.

Development and implementation of Minimum Energy Performance Standards and energy efficiency labelling to improve equipment efficiency.

Promotion of building codes and other considerations to reduce demand for refrigerant and mechanical cooling, including integration of district and community cooling into urban planning, improved building design, green roofs, and tree shading.