The United States is among 63 countries to join a pledge to cut cooling-related emissions at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai (COP 28). The Global Cooling Pledge includes cutting emissions not only from air conditioning but also from refrigeration for food and medicine and even medical devices such as MRI machines. It commits countries to reduce by 2050 their cooling-related emissions by at least 68 percent from 2022 levels, along with a suite of other targets including establishing minimum energy performance standards for air conditioning by 2030.

Installed global cooling capacity is expected to triple by mid-century, driven by increasing temperatures, growing populations and rising incomes as 1.2 billion people in 77 countries who lack access to cooling, seek it.  And even with increasingly energy-efficient technology, electricity use is expected to more than double, threatening to strain electricity grids, particularly in developing economies. By 2050, 67 percent of cooling capacity is expected to be in developing countries, up from less than 50 percent now. Emissions from cooling are expected to reach between 4.4 billion and 6.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.

Emissions from both the refrigerants and cooling currently account for about 7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and, if current trends hold, 10 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 could come from air-conditioning and other efforts to keep cool. About 3 billion more air conditioners are expected to be installed around the world beyond the roughly 2 billion currently in place. China serves as a prime example, with energy demand for space cooling increasing 13 percent per year since 2000, on average, and a manufacturing sector responsible for 70 percent of window units sold worldwide. China has not signed the pledge.

Achieving the pledge’s commitments will require major investment in more sustainable cooling technology, aided by government incentives and bulk procurement. It also would need electric grids to switch to renewables, as today’s use of air conditioning and fans accounts for nearly 20 percent of global electricity consumption. Switching to renewable energy would reduce the emissions from the electric sector needed to power air conditioners. The Global Cooling Pledge adds to efforts started under the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for a gradual reduction in the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in cooling technologies.

India is expected to see the greatest growth in demand for cooling in the coming decades, but has not joined the pledge. Indian government officials indicated that they were not willing to undertake targets above those committed to in 1992 under the multilateral Montreal Protocol to regulate production and consumption of ozone depleting chemicals and hydrofluorocarbons used in cooling.

Given that the United States has signed onto the cooling pledge suggests there could be more regulations or incentives to come for that industry in the United States. Progress on meeting the cooling pledge will be tracked on an annual basis until 2030, with check-ins at the yearly U.N. climate summits. The pledge calls for signatories to publish their own national cooling action plans by 2026, and to commit to supporting the deployment of highly efficient air conditioning technologies. It includes a commitment to improve the efficiency of new air-conditioners by 50 percent.

Air Conditioning (AC) Technology

Conventional ACs are energy intensive due to processes for eliminating humidity. Conventional ACs transfer heat outside by converting gas refrigerants to liquid and back again, which generates cooling. Removing humidity requires cooling air to the point at which water vapor becomes a liquid to be drained. The inability to get rid of humidity without first cooling the air makes conventional ACs less efficient.

While companies have prototypes that produce fewer emissions than traditional ACs, there are currently no plans to bring them to market soon because they are not economic due to material costs and supply chain issues. Market research suggests people are not willing to pay as much as 150 percent more for an AC, pointing out that policies and incentives are needed to lower consumer costs. Governments could implement stricter energy performance standards, clearer efficiency labelling, subsidies or bulk procurement to stimulate demand and lower costs. And, import tariffs could help prevent inefficient, second-hand models being resold in developing countries.

According to the New York Times, many new advancements and actions — including adopting “passive” cooling technology like improved insulation and reflective surfaces — can help with cooling without significantly increasing energy use. Bolstering energy efficiency, as well as phasing down refrigerant gases, can help reduce cooling-related emissions. Adopting building energy codes that explicitly incorporate “passive” cooling, like designs that increase natural shade and ventilation, can also be effective, although they can increase up-front costs for new construction and add significant costs for retrofitting existing buildings. One estimate has those passive cooling measures — coupled with faster improvements in energy efficiency and a more stringent phase out of hydrofluorocarbons — reducing projected 2050 emissions by over 60 percent.


COP 28 has come up with a Global Cooling Pledge to reduce greenhouse gases coming from cooling and refrigeration by 68 percent by 2050, despite the world likely almost tripling its use of air conditioning in the future as 1.2 billion people try to acquire it. Since the United States has joined the pledge, Americans can expect more regulations and incentives to reduce the comfort of cooling that has raised productivity tremendously in this country and the world since World War II. The outcome will raise energy prices for Americans and the cost of new more efficient technology as those technologies are still not economic due to material costs and supply chain issues. This agreement, and other COP agreements, should not be binding on the United States because the Constitution reserves any agreement with other countries to require compliance by the Senate via the Treaty approval authority, although the Biden Administration is expected to argue that the United States is bound by its signature.

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