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Inefficient Air Conditioning Drives Global Warming, UN Report Finds

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Inefficient Air Conditioning Drives Global Warming, UN Report Finds
Cheap, inefficient devices create a vicious cycle that further drives global warming. Tinou Bao / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Air conditioning systems are a significant contributor to global warming pollution that can and should be made more efficient, a new UN report shows.


"If we deal with cooling wrong, we essentially cook ourselves," Gabrielle Dreyfus, the cool efficiency program manager at the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said on a press call.

As climate change drives up global temperatures, demand for air conditioning is expected to quadruple by 2050. To provide cooling units to everybody who needs them — not just those who can afford them— the world would need up to 14 billion units by 2050, according to the report.

However, cheap, inefficient devices — especially when powered by coal- or gas-fired power plants — create a vicious cycle that further drives global warming, while improving cooling efficiency could bring multifold benefits.

Completely banning hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs – a group of potent but short-lived greenhouse gases that are still used in many cooling devices – could trim global warming by up to 0.4°C by the end of the century.

A switch to more efficient air conditioning units could cut global energy consumption by the equivalent of all the 2018 coal-fired generation in China and India combined.

The report also calls for low-tech efficiency improvements, which will especially benefit low-income communities and communities of color.

For a deeper dive:

AP, Gizmodo, Thomson Reuters Foundation, The Guardian, CNBC

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