The planet is on track to warm by 3℃ by the end of the century, which is twice the 1.5℃ limit determined by the Paris Climate Agreement. It therefore should come as little surprise that the issue of cooling is increasingly critical to stakeholders across the world and is among the key issues at the UN Climate Conference.
At COP28, the COP Presidency, supported by UN Environment Programme and the Cool Coalition, launched the Global Cooling Pledge. It is the first global collective action to reduce the cooling sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Pledge will work to reduce cooling-related emissions, and, if successful, could avoid releasing up to 86 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050.
“Not a luxury, but a life saver“
As climate change drives more intense and frequent heat waves, people must rely on air-conditioning to survive. However, the refrigerants and energy used for active cooling contribute to an estimated 7 percent of global emissions, and these emissions are only set to increase without intervention.
Paradoxically, as air-conditioning drives greenhouse gas emissions higher, the need for accessible cooling increases. An estimated 30 percent of the global population is exposed to potentially lethal heat for twenty days in an average year, and it is projected to rise to 50 percent by the end of the century. Moreover, 1.2 billion people do not have adequate access to cooling. This puts them at grave risk. Without cooling solutions, they are less likely to survive, safely store food in the heat, or earn income to support their families when heat makes it dangerous—if not impossible—to work. A further 2.9 billion only have access to inefficient cooling. As heat waves put pressure on cities’ power grids, the likelihood of blackouts when heat is at its peak increases exponentially, exposing them to further risk.
How can the Global Cooling Pledge help?
The Global Cooling Pledge operates on the core principle that “adaptation and mitigation strategies related to sustainable cooling must go hand in hand.” It aims to reduce cooling-related emissions by at least 68 percent from 2022 baseline levels. However, this reduction must be advanced through sustainable and passive cooling strategies, rather than eliminating them all together. “We need cooling, but it has to become more efficient,” says UNEP Cool Coalition global coordinator Lily Riahi.
These are solutions that, with enough political will, can be feasible. While most air-conditioning units purchased globally are two-to-three times less efficient than the best available options, a growing number of sustainable technologies are technically viable and economically feasible. Moreover, passive cooling strategies can be incredibly powerful. Cool roofs, for example, can reduce indoor temperatures by 3.3°C (5.9°F).
As the Pledge launches, over 60 countries have already committed to it.
The voluntary signatories have agreed to transition their countries to more efficient and environmentally friendly cooling solutions. They will advance national cooling action plans, and examine the codes and policies that can impact meaningful progress.
What makes the Pledge significant is its recognition that change comes at all levels. As cooling demand grows significantly, leaders in the private sector, non-profit organizations, and the local and regional levels all have a role to play. The Pledge advances specific priorities for subnational governments and non-state actors so they can contribute to its realization.
Arsht-Rock and our Global Chief Heat Officer for UN-HABITAT Eleni Myrivili are proud to have supported the development of the Global Cooling Pledge over the course of the last year and engaged our City Champions for Heat Action Mayors, seven of whom have signed on to the subnational commitments. Through the efforts of the UN Environment Programme’s Cool Coalition and stakeholders including Arsht-Rock, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and C40 Cities, this Pledge was made more inclusive of local leaders working at the frontlines of climate change.
The Global Cooling Pledge marks a significant moment for adaptation and resilience. It raises ambition and sets collective targets to reduce emissions while making cooling more accessible for those most exposed to the impacts of global warming.