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Climate-friendly cooling to help ease global warming

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A new IIASA-led study shows that coordinated international action on energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling could avoid as much as 600 billion tons CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions in this century.


Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are mainly used for cooling and refrigeration. While they were originally developed to replace ozone-depleting substances that are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, many HFCs are potent greenhouse gases with a global warming potential up to 12,400 times that of CO2 over a 100-year period.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which entered into force in 2019, aims to phase down the consumption of HFCs by 2050. While previous agreements have resulted in improvements in the design and energy performance of, for instance, cooling equipment, the Kigali Amendment is the first to include maintaining and/or enhancing the energy efficiency of cooling technologies as an explicit goal. According to the authors of the study, which has been published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, there is however currently limited understanding of the potential future impacts of the Kigali Agreement on global warming and possible co-benefits from savings in electricity. The study is the first to try to quantify the overall effects of the Agreement on both greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions.

The researchers developed a range of long-term scenarios for HFC emissions under varying degrees of stringency in climate policy and also assessed co-benefits in the form of electricity savings and associated reductions in emissions. The results indicate that, due to technical opportunities to improve energy efficiency in cooling technologies, there is potential for significant electricity savings under a well-managed phase-down of HFCs.

“Our results show that the global cumulative HFC emissions from refrigerant use in cooling technologies would have been over 360 billion tons CO2