Air conditioning could wreck climate targets unless new technologies emerge

Air conditioning could wreck climate targets unless new technologies emerge

By Caroline Fouvet

Keeping cool as the mercury rises is a challenge for billions of people living in hot climates. As temperatures climb into the 40s or even 50s in many regions of the world, like the Middle East and Asia, air conditioning in homes and offices becomes a necessity. However, the increased need for cooling comes at a cost.

Since the Montreal Protocol, it has been acknowledged that cooling devices entail ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The Protocol’s implementation after 1987 successfully resulted in their progressive phasing out, but the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that replaced them, turned out to be potent greenhouse gases. Since households from both developed and developing countries are buying more and more air conditioning units and other cooling devices, this is problematic. It has been calculated that if all air conditioning equipment entering the world market uses current technology, they will be responsible for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Fighting warm temperatures can also put countries’ grids under pressure and lead to power outages. In India, where people are familiar with heatwaves, the resulting surge in electricity demand causes major power disruptions and forces the government to impose power cuts on malls and street lights. In 2014, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the energy demand reached 11,000 megawatts, which is 3,000 megawatts over the grid’s total capacity.

Providing cooling options during hot summer months at the global level is necessary to avoid substantial human and economic losses. Current adaptation methods to a hot climate are threatening to undermine climate policy goals, as they often result in higher greenhouse gas emissions. Adapting to increasingly warm summer months will require improved responses to provide efficient cooling. Green cooling technologies that are less energy intensive are desperately needed.

Cover photo by Sławomir Kowalewski/Pixabay (public domain): Air conditioning units on a building in China.

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