Growing demand for air conditioning units and refrigerators is threatening to accelerate global warming, but new guidelines could help reduce emissions by setting clear performance standards for new appliances.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) said the new guidelines for room air conditioners and refrigerators provide a tool for developing and emerging economies on laws and policies requiring new appliances to be energy-efficient and to use refrigerants with a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP).
If ambitious efforts in line with the guidelines are pursued throughout Africa alone, the annual impacts by 2030 would result in savings of 40 terawatt hours of electricity - equivalent to the output of almost 20 large power plants and a cost of $US3.5 billion in electricity bills—and a reduction of 28 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
One of the lead authors of the guidelines, Brian Holuj of the UN's United for Efficiency initiative (U4E), said it is an ideal tool for governments.
Typical cooling units require electricity and a refrigerant gas to operate. When electricity comes from fossil fuel power plants – which is the case for nearly 75 per cent of the electricity in non-OECD countries – they emit greenhouse gases and air pollution.
Globally, an estimated 3.6 billion cooling appliances are in use today, and this is projected to increase to 9.5 billion appliances by 2050.
"If cooling is provided for all who need it in a warming world—and not just those who can currently afford it—this would require up to 14 billion cooling appliances by 2050,” Holuj said.
“Electricity consumption varies widely, but household refrigerating appliances in some unregulated markets have been found to consume over 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity (kWh) per year, whereas some of the best consume around one fourth as much.”
Holuj said minimum energy performance standards and energy labels, if well-designed and implemented, are some of the fastest and most effective approaches to improve efficiency.
“The problem is that while dozens of countries have minimum energy performance standards and energy labels, many are outdated or unenforced,” he said.
“Inadequate standards and labels leave countries vulnerable as dumping grounds for products that cannot be sold elsewhere.
“By producing guidelines we can ensure that standards and labels are effective.”
Aside from the energy profile, many refrigerants have a GWP over 1,000 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
Under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, countries will phase down HFCs significantly in the next 30 years.
Holuj said the climate benefits are significantly enhanced by improving energy efficiency while phasing down hydrofluorocarbons.
The chief scientific advisor of the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program, Gabrielle Dreyfus, said the phasedown has to be linked to improved cooling efficiency to be truly effective.
“This includes integrating policies for enhanced cooling efficiency into the broader frameworks of energy and climate policy, and the enhanced nationally determined contributions of the Paris Agreement,” Dreyfus said.