The world is obsessed with air conditioning. How can we stop it from killing the planet?

A warming world means massive amounts of cooling, but a solution is out there.

Keeping the world cool is only making it hotter.

“Hydrofluorocarbons are in fact the fastest-growing source of GHG emissions in the world due to the increasing global demand for space cooling and refrigeration,” Peters told Grid. “Cooling already accounts for more than 7 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.”

As the world warms, some parts of the world will see huge demand during peak times — for example, while cooling took up just 16.1 percent of peak electric loads in the Middle East in 2016, by 2050 that number will be 31.4 percent (though improved efficiency appliances could reduce this). In India, that 2016 to 2050 jump will be from 10.5 percent all the way to 44.1 percent.

The most successful treaty ever

The world faced a problem similar to the HFC issue before — and defeated it.

But its success had a side effect: the rise of HFCs to replace the CFCs. HFCs don’t deplete the ozone but have “global warming potential” — meaning the ability to trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet — of hundreds to thousands of times that of carbon dioxide. And with more and more refrigeration and cooling needed as countries develop and the world warms, there are a lot of HFCs out there.

Most of those emissions — about 80 percent, according to Peters — are indirect, meaning they arise from the electricity used to run cooling devices or the fuel in refrigerated trucks and other transport. But that leaves 20 percent that are direct emissions of HFCs themselves, leaking from air conditioners and refrigerators both during use and at the end of their lives when they are scrapped. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol plots a course to phase down use of HFCs in favor of HFOs — which have much lower global warming potential — or other alternatives, so eventually there will be no more HFCs left to leak.

In simpler terms, the Kigali Amendment takes direct aim at one of the more vicious feedback loops caused by climate change. And though the U.S. helped push for the Kigali Amendment’s adoption in Rwanda in 2016, it has yet to officially ratify it. That’s where the Senate comes in.

“The Kigali Amendment is a win-win-win: it’s good for American industries’ global economic competitiveness, it’s good for consumers’ pocketbooks, and it’s good for our planet,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), when the amendment made it out of committee in May. Though the full Senate has yet to schedule a vote, there is hope it could happen soon. Approval by the Senate would require the support of a two-thirds majority, or 67 senators — clearing the way for formal ratification by the Biden administration.

The Senate could put the U.S. on a path to fixing its air conditioning problem

“They are a huge manufacturer and exporter of HFCs and also have invested heavily in low [global warming potential] alternative technologies,” Peters said. “Therefore, U.S. ratification will drive the transition to next-generation climate-friendly alternatives.”

Whether the Senate’s climate momentum continues and the amendment is ratified remains to be seen. “[The U.S. was} at the forefront of efforts to get HFC phasedown under the Montreal Protocol in the Obama administration. They were one of the founder proponents of the proposals,” Peters said. “U.S. formally ratifying would be very significant.”

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