As the world warms, energy needed for air conditioning could double by 2050

As the world warms, energy needed for air conditioning could double by 2050

The future of a warming planet: As global temperatures rise, more people will turn to air conditioners to protect themselves from the heat.

But increased cooling of buildings and other spaces, which is also driven by rising incomes, population growth and urbanization, means the world could use more than double the electricity it does currently consumes to stay cool, according to a new United Nations study released Tuesday. at the global climate negotiations in Dubai.

Increased electricity consumption in turn threatens to increase greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, heating the planet to even more dangerous extremes. Special refrigerant gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators, when released into the atmosphere, are also potent greenhouse gases.

If current trends continue, 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 could come from air conditioning and other efforts to maintain ambient temperatures, according to the UN report.

“The cooling sector must grow to protect everyone from rising temperatures,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program. “But this growth must not come at the expense of the energy transition and more intense climate impacts. »

Many new advances and actions – including the adoption of “passive” cooling technologies such as improved insulation and reflective surfaces – can help keep the world cooler without dramatically increasing energy consumption, Ms Andersen said . Strengthening energy efficiency, as well as gradually reducing global warming refrigerant gases, can also help limit cooling-related emissions, the report says.

There is no doubt that the world needs more cooling. An analysis released this year by a consortium of nonprofits, governments and businesses estimates that 1.2 billion people in 77 countries are at high risk poor health and livelihoods due to lack of access to cooling.

Many of the world’s most vulnerable people have limited or no access to modern cooling technologies, like air conditioners and refrigerators, at home, school or work, new UN report finds . Lack of refrigeration also reduces the income of millions of farmers, leads to food losses and hinders universal access to vaccines.

At the same time, global average temperatures are increasing. It is “virtually certain” that this year will be the hottest year on record, the World Meteorological Organization announced last week. The last nine years have been the warmest nine years in 174 years of recorded scientific observations.

As the planet warms, the world’s installed capacity of cooling equipment will triple by 2050, under current policies, the report estimates. And even with increasingly energy-efficient technology, electricity consumption will more than double.

This threatens to strain power grids, particularly in developing economies. By 2050, 67 percent of cooling capacity will be in developing countries, compared to less than 50 percent currently, the report says.

Much of the potential for reducing emissions lies in the world’s richest economies, the report said. Adopting building energy codes that explicitly incorporate “passive” cooling, such as designs that increase natural shade and ventilation, is particularly effective.

These passive cooling measures, combined with faster improvements in energy efficiency and a stricter phase-out of highly polluting refrigerants, known as hydrofluorocarbons, could reduce projected emissions for 2050 by more than 60%, the authors estimate.

Additionally, a rapid transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar power to power air conditioners could further reduce cooling-related emissions.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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