This article is the second in a series co-authored by CLASP, IEA, the SEAD Initiative, UK BEIS and others highlighting the top 5 things governments can do right now to address climate change through appliance energy efficiency.
By Ana Maria Carreño
Blistering, sweltering, and unbearable. These were the conditions experienced by people living in the Northern Hemisphere during this summer season. Heat records were broken in major cities across the world, including Portland (USA), Sicily (Italy), Cizre (Turkey), Kevo (Finland), Joba (Oman), Taimali (Taiwan) and others, fueling the need for many to purchase an air conditioner for the first time.
The IEA estimates that energy demand for space cooling could more than triple by 2050, when more than 1 billion air conditioners will be in use globally. In some regions already used to hot weather – including in countries in the Middle East, South Asia or Southeast Asia – experiencing sweltering conditions for a few weeks during the summer season could turn into a few months at a time, making it increasingly harder for those without access to space cooling.
A rapid transition to more efficient cooling appliances can help the world adapt to a warming world and prevent a climate catastrophe. An overnight doubling of air conditioner efficiency for all countries in 2030 could mean avoiding 455 Mt CO₂ annually, the equivalent emissions of nearly 100 million passenger vehicles driven for a year.
With less than 60 days to go before COP26 and governments scrambling to identify further commitments to help avoid a climate crisis, the following are actions that governments can take today to mitigate future emissions from cooling appliances like air conditioners while enabling people to keep cool on a rapidly warming planet:
- Adopt ambitious Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) to double the efficiency of cooling equipment. The model regulations developed by United for Efficiency offer ready-to-adopt guidance for policymakers in developing and emerging economies. Aligning standards with China, a major exporter of air conditioners that also recently set a new best-in-the-world MEPS, is also a pathway for many countries that exclusively import room air conditioners.
- Improve accessibility and affordability of the most efficient cooling equipment. For example, Ghana’s on-wage financing scheme promotes the purchase of energy-efficient and climate-friendly cooling equipment by facilitating access to an innovative financing instrument. Large-scale government incentive programs, such as a federal subsidy proposed by CLASP for residential electric heat pumps in the US can also promote access to more efficient cooling equipment. These programs reduce the initial cost of energy-efficient cooling, lower electricity costs, and improve overall quality of life.
- Support AC innovation with public/private partnerships and R&D programs. Economies that are home to large cooling equipment manufacturers—like the US, Europe, China, India, Japan, and Thailand—are good candidates for interventions to accelerate the deployment of next-generation AC equipment. The winners of the Global Cooling Prize offer a glimpse of future technologies that can provide cooling with far fewer climate impacts than traditional ACs.
Appliance efficiency will play a vital role in helping to meet cooling demand, keep people healthy and productive, and lower the negative climate impacts of increased cooling. But governments around the world need to act fast and take ambitious action.
The Product Efficiency Call to Action—a collaborative effort led by the Government of the United Kingdom and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS); IEA; the Super-Efficient Equipment and Appliances Deployment (SEAD) Initiative; and CLASP—offers an opportunity to raise the ambition of cooling appliance policy. If all nations committed to doubling air conditioner efficiency:
- Global energy consumption could be reduced by over 4,700 TWh between 2022 and 2030 (Figure 1), the equivalent projected business-as-usual energy consumption for ACs in the US, India, and the Philippines over that same time, and
- 2,600 Mt of CO₂ would be avoided over the same time period (Figure 2).
Learn more about the Product Efficiency Call to Action and view the growing list of signatories here.
In addition, more is needed from the private sector. Opportunities are open to businesses to join the Race to Zero, the Cool Coalition, U4E, EP100 and other climate clubs offering knowledge, peer-to-peer interaction and other benefits.
On a quickly warming planet, tackling the cooling crisis urgently must be a priority for leaders around the world. Look out for our upcoming articles highlighting the next four things governments can do to address climate change through appliance energy efficiency.