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Cool off on AC to cool down greenhouse gas emissions

It’s summer in the city and, if you listen carefully, you can hear the whir of air conditioning (AC) units running across the city. These machines help residential, high-rise dwellers stay cool in the summer — especially during pandemic lockdowns; our time sequestered indoors during hot summer months in cities like Toronto has reinforced how important cooling is.

In fact, cooling is so important there are a whopping 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use globally. Collectively, these units pack a big punch to our planet when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Sadly, AC emissions are predicted to rise by 90% above 2017 levels by the year 2050 if we don’t take action.

All is not lost, however. A new report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), suggest 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions could be prevented from entering the atmosphere within the next 40 years if we set strict standards for running AC. 

Let’s break it down. 460 billion tons of GHG emissions prevented means: 

  • Reducing 1,300 gigawatts of electricity use — the equivalent of all coal-fired power generation capacity in both China and India in 2018;
  • Saving 3.9 trillion dollars (CAD) on cooling expenses by creating more efficient cooling systems.

It just goes to show that efficient cooling is a crucial piece of the climate puzzle. Thankfully, there are solutions to help. In order to lower GHG emissions from AC/cooling by 2050, we need to start with the following:

  • Raise more awareness about cooling regulations as a critical, often neglected, climate relief strategy;
  • Encourage homeowners and renters to be more mindful about their AC use during summer months;
  • Prioritize city planning that promotes urban tree shading (more shade = less need for AC);
  • Facilitate quicker adoption of building efficiency software and technologies to coordinate AC use;
  • Provide incentives for condo boards and property management to install efficient cooling equipment;
  • Upgrade technician training to improve installation and servicing practices.    Let’s face it – in some instances, AC units are a nice-to-have privilege, but cooling is also necessary to protect vulnerable populations from heatwaves, keep food fresh, and workforces productive. So, we need to do everything we can to implement effective strategies that help reduce GHG emissions from AC and cooling units — that way, we can stay cool and do our part.