The pathway to net-zero cooling

Climate-friendly cooling could cut 8 years worth of global emissions By Climate Champions | December 10, 2020

Cooling is critical for health, prosperity, and the environment. It keeps our vaccines safe and food fresh, ensures we have comfortable buildings to live and work in, and is central to our industrial and transport infrastructure . However, cooling is typically energy intensive and highly polluting due to the emissions from the electricity that powers this equipment (which still rarely come from low carbon sources) and the refrigerants and insulation foam gas used in it (especially if not properly recovered and recycled).

Climate-friendly cooling could cut 8 years worth of global emissions. However we need to act fast as emissions from cooling are increasing rapidly. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which has already been ratified by over 100 countries, and regional frameworks such as the EU F-Gas Regulation, demonstrate how refrigerant emissions can be reduced, however further phase outs are needed.

Minimum energy performance standards for cooling appliances and equipment are already in place in over 73 countries, but they need to be more stringent to align with the pathway to zero. Meeting future cooling needs sustainably can also reduce the costs of the renewable energy build out by $3.5tn by 2030. Quite simply, we get to zero faster and cheaper with climate-friendly cooling. S-curve transformations and diffusions of net-zero cooling solutions are also possible to accelerate the transition.

Our vision is that by 2050, there will be net-zero cooling for all through a focus on three impact areas:

  • Passive cooling: Widespread adoption of measures that avoid or reduce the need for mechanical cooling including reducing cooling loads, smart and human centric design and urban planning
  • Super-efficient equipment and appliances: A ‘race to the top’ S-curve transformation where the norm is super-efficient cooling equipment and appliances powered by zero carbon energy
  • Ultra-low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and insulation foam gases: Market domination of ultra-low (<5 GWP) refrigerants across all cooling sectors and applications

The net-zero cooling transition will account for different climatic conditions in geographical regions and the different refrigerant needs of sectors. It will also account for the ‘life and death’ nature of the need for cooling, especially as the planet warms and the most vulnerable people require cooling for protection. Whilst it will be possible to significantly reduce energy use for cooling through passive measures and super-efficient equipment, it will remain essential to decarbonise the global residual energy supply and improve system flexibility.

All three impact areas (passive cooling, super-efficient equipment and appliances, and ultra-low GWP refrigerants) are needed to get to net-zero. Achieving net-zero cooling for all through these three impact areas will complement other climate action pathways such as human settlements, transport, energy, and resilience.

They will bring multiple societal and economic benefits, many related to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs ), including: business and job creation opportunities; preventing heat related deaths; protecting and increasing productivity; enabling the energy transition; improving air quality by reducing coal fired power output; catalysing better building design; improving the resilience of food and medicine supply chains; improving the range of electric vehicles; and improving access to cooling.

In addition to helping deliver the SDGs in the decade ahead and through to 2050, net-zero cooling for all can help alleviate urgent pressures from Covid-19 such as: the need to keep medicines, vaccines and hospitals cool; thermal comfort for those sheltering in place; and keeping food fresh and nutritious in the face of supply chain and market disruption.

By 2050, net-zero cooling for all will have simultaneously reduced up to 260 GtCO2e emissions and enhanced access to much needed cooling as people across the world adapt to the changing climate. Discover the pathway to net-zero cooling here.