The Race for Sustainable Cooling is Heating Up


Yesterday saw the launch of the Global Cooling Pledge, a collaborative effort between the United Arab Emirates, host of COP28, and the UNEP-led Cool Coalition. The aim of the Pledge is to enhance the affordability of air conditioners, deep freezers, and heat-dissipating homes, with special emphasis on developing nations, while curbing the emission of heat-trapping gases from the rapidly growing cooling sector. 

At the time of the writing of this article, 63 countries have joined the Pledge. At yesterday’s formal launch of the Pledge in Dubai, it was evident that there is an ongoing effort by Pledge organizers and signatories to have more countries step up and sign up.

In his introductory remarks US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, while praising the goals of the Pledge and noting their connection to the Montreal Protocol and its Kigali Amendment, expressed anxious hope that COP28 President Dr. Sultan al-Jaber would attend the launch event.

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry ©️ Diego Montero

It was only after the first panel session following Special Envoy Kerry’s speech that the COP28 President made an appearance, albeit a brief one and only for a group photo, eschewing remarks. 

From left to right: Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, COP28 President Dr. Sultan al-Jaber, and US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry ©️ Diego Montero

The Global Cooling Pledge is one of nine non-negotiated declarations, charters, and pledges that are considered key outcomes on COP28’s Presidential Action Agenda. Recognizing the importance of action at every level, it invites national and subnational governments to join as participants, with a small number of cities designated as City Champions of the Subnational Commitments to the Pledge, and the private sector, development banks, financial institutions and philanthropic organizations to serve as supporters.

Signatories to the Global Cooling Pledge ©️ Diego Montero
Cooling is responsible for over 7% of global GHG emissions and 20% of total electricity consumption today. With demand for cooling expected to triple by 2050, this energy demand and its attendant GHG emissions will also increase, along with leakage of refrigerant gases, most of which have a higher global warming potential than CO2. In the absence of ambitious new green cooling actions, emissions from cooling are predicted to account for more than 10% of global emissions in 2050.
According to a new report published by the Cool Coalition, “Keeping it Chill: How to Meet Cooling Demands while Cutting Emissions,” launched on the same day as the Global Cooling Pledge at COP28, lowering the power consumption of cooling equipment would cut at least 60% off predicted 2050 emissions in the sector, increase access to life-saving cooling along the cold chain for pharmaceutical products, and via higher energy efficiency reduce stress on energy grids, saving trillions of dollars.
The report calls for coordinated action in three key areas: passive strategies to ameliorate extreme heat and bring down demand for cooling in the cold chain and in buildings; higher energy efficiency standards for cooling equipment; and phasing down climate-warming HFC refrigerants faster than is required under the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment. It also notes that most countries lack an integrated approach to sustainable cooling. As of 2022, only 30% of countries had regulations in all three areas.

The Global Cooling Pledge highlights the complicated balancing act between economic development and climate safety. The international community, driven by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, is committed to ensuring access to cooling throughout the world. But this will have to be accomplished in a sustainable manner to avoid exacerbating the climate challenge.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said that, “The cooling sector must grow to protect everyone from rising temperatures, maintain food quality and safety, keep vaccines stable and economies productive. But this growth must not come at the cost of the energy transition and more intense climate impacts.”

This tension can sometimes erupt into acrimony, as when COP28 President warned that a commitment to phasing out fossil fuels would “…take the world back into caves.” This acid remark from Dr. Sultan al-Jaber, though lacking in diplomatic finesse, points to the current lack of an economic development model that circumvents fossil fuels. Sustainable cooling is a microcosm of this larger challenge.

Diego Montero,iGDP 战略总监。负责机构研究、传播和战略规划。