Green cooling for a warming world

Cooling system on a rooftop.

Cooling system on a rooftop. Photo: Fotolia/Tupungato

The world celebrates the international day for the preservation of the ozone layer and with it, one of the most successful multilateral environmental agreements, the Montreal Protocol. More than 20 years since it was signed, the ozone hole is well on its way to healing and should be history by 2050 according to scientific projections. Montreal Protocol's success is proof that international cooperation can stimulate sustainable technological developments and transformations. Today, the sector most affected by ozone protection measures - the refrigeration, air-conditioning and foam-blowing (RAC&F) sector - encounters new challenges in the face of climate change.

Cooling has become an essential part of human life. They are found in homes, cars, supermarkets, office buildings, research centers, production chains, and industrial operations. As population grows and urbanization intensifies, the global demand for cooling, especially in developing countries and emerging economies is rising rapidly. As of 2014, there are about 1.5 billion small air-conditioning (AC) units worldwide. In the same year, approximatel 140 million small AC units were produced. About 120 million of these units were produced by China - with roughly 75 million for the Chinese Market and 45 million for Export.

Two-thirds of the emissions in the cooling sector can be attributed to energy consumption. This translates to high costs not only for the users, but also for the climate. The remaining emissions come from the use of highly climate damaging refrigerants and foam blowing agents. In phasing out ozone depleting substances (ODS), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are commonly used to replace them. Although HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they are potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). The global warming potential (GWP) of HFCs are usually in the range of 650 to 4000. As such, HFCs have become one of the fastest growing GHGs and present a challenge between ozone and climate protection. By 2050, the cooling sector could be responsible for up to 7-19 percent of the global GHG emissions.

For more than 20 years now, the GIZ Program Proklima for integrated ozone and climate protection has been dealing with these challenges in the RAC&F sector. On behalf of the German government, GIZ Proklima has been supporting developing countries and emerging economies in phasing out ODS as agreed upon under the Montreal Protocol. By promoting energy-efficient technologies based on natural refrigerants and foam blowing agents, it avoids the use of synthetic substances such as HFCs and is able to maximize climate benefits from the phase out of ODS. Through this approach, over 100 million tons CO2eq emissions were avoided in a span of 20 years.

Building on this experience, this program has implemented a total of 16 projects under the International Climate Initiative. In China for example, the production line of small AC units was converted to natural refrigerants in cooperation with the Chinese company GREE. With a production and sales rate of about 180,000 AC units per year, about 500,000 tons CO2eq could be avoided over the lifetime of these devices. In addition to technology demonstrations, NAMA methodologies and instruments for the cooling sector have been developed and are being applied in countries such as Thailand, Colombia, and Mexico. These NAMAs deal with the interface between the climate regime and the Montreal Protocol as well as propagate climate-friendly technologies with inclusion of the private sector.

On 28th September, GIZ Proklima is celebrating years of working towards integrated climate and ozone protection with the symposium "20 years of Germany's bilateral engagement in the multilateral process of the Montreal Protocol" in the GIZ Headquarters in Eschborn. Challenges and opportunities in shifting towards a sustainable and climate-friendly cooling sector will also be addressed through discussions with partner countries, policy makers, research institutions, industry representatives and industrial association, and NGOs active in relevant fields such as population development, urbanization, development cooperation, and technology transfer.