The heat is on: cooling’s Race to Zero

As demand for cooling escalates, so must the industry’s efforts to decarbonize. By Climate Champions | March 29, 2021

Conventional cooling already causes up to 7% of global GHG emissions – more than those from the aviation and maritime transport sectors combined. With population growth, urbanization, and rising income levels, compounded by a heating planet, these emissions are only set to rise further.

Room air conditioners (RACs) alone are predicted to increase from 1.2 billion globally today, to 4.5 billion by 2050. This spike could add about 132 GT of CO2e emissions cumulatively between now and 2050, resulting in over 0.5°C of global warming by the end of the century.

The need to cut these emissions whilst meeting increasing demand for future cooling sustainably has therefore never been greater. Fortunately, solutions to this challenge do exist. And efficient and clean development of cooling can make a significant contribution towards delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement.

So how far away is the sector from reaching a net zero tipping point?

Race to Zero

While net zero momentum is building within the cooling sector, evidence shows that more must be done to help the sector reach net zero emissions before 2050. For instance, a Carbon Trust report co-created with the UN High Level Champions team, shows that out of the 54 cooling suppliers analysed, five have joined the Race to Zero but the majority are far from having climate targets, actions or plans strong enough to join the race.

Behind these five, Daikin Industries is inching towards the starting line, followed closely by eight other companies, including Toshiba, Sharp, LG and Fujitsu. Some 24 were found to have no target and demonstrate slow action. This means the majority are still in the process of setting a Science Based Target and validating their commitment by starting a plan on how to get to net zero. However, the fact that companies have three years to develop their commitment once they’ve pledged a net zero target should encourage cooling suppliers to join the race, even if their plans on how to achieve this ambition aren’t clear from the start.

Cooling calculator

To help build momentum, the report highlights specific, promotable actions through a focus on three impact areas. These include:

  • 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

Alongside the report, the authors developed a ‘Cool Calculator’ that aims to boost cooling ambition. The tool allows stakeholder to run simple calculations on key aspects of cooling decarbonization that help them identify a set of solutions that facilitate progress on a pathway to net zero by 2050.

Spurring momentum

Alongside the cooling calculator, a number of other initiatives and regulations exist that have been, and will be, pivotal in spurring innovation and momentum for a sector racing to net zero.

  • The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol should reduce the projected production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by more than 80% over the next 30 years. If fully supported, the amendment could avoid up to 0.4°C of global warming by the end of this century.
  • The Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program – K-CEP is a philanthropic program to support the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol. It works across different streams (finance, policies, institutional strengthening and access to cooling) to accelerate the climate and development benefits of the Montreal refrigerant transition by maximising improvement in energy efficiency of cooling and meeting the HFC phase out target of the Kigali Amendment.
  • The Green Cooling Initiative (GCI) is a global initiative focused on the implementation of sustainable cooling, formed through a union of various projects and partners. Since 1995, GCI has been sustainably transforming the cooling sector in emerging and developing countries. The transition to ultra-low GWP refrigerants has been an important part of GCI’s work alongside projects that focus on other aspects of green cooling.
  • The EIA has led multiple campaigns to promote the shift to ultra-low Global Warming Potential (GWP) refrigerants including: the robust revision and implementation of the EU HFC phase-down through the F-Gas Regulation; investigating and exposing the illegal trade in refrigerants and promoting strengthened refrigerant enforcement and licensing. Most recently, the EIA developed a tool – The Pathway to Net Zero Cooling Product List – for companies and consumers aiming to cut their cooling carbon footprint. The tool focuses on ultra-low GWP natural refrigerants alongside appliance energy efficiency.
  • The Global Cooling Prize, initiated by Mission Innovation and the Government of India in 2018 is designed to incentivize the development of a residential cooling solution that will have at least five times less climate impact than today’s standard AC units being sold in the market. The winner is being announced on April 29.

Sustainable Development Goals

Net zero cooling is of paramount importance: achieving this 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; and enabling the energy transition.

In addition to helping deliver the SDGs in the decade ahead and through to 2050, net-zero cooling for all can also 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.

For more info on the Cool Coalition, please visit:

For more information about joining the Race to Zero, please click here.