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Investing in sustainable cooling to protect the planet

Investing in sustainable cooling to protect the planet

On December 2, world leaders gathered at COP28 for the first Summit on Methane and non-CO₂ Greenhouse Gases. This gathering highlighted the importance of tackling super pollutants, including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), in slowing warming in the near term to keep climate targets within reach. Our national leaders took a significant step towards delivering on this fast mitigation strategy with the recent decision to nearly double contributions to the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol to nearly $1 billion USD over the next three years.

The Montreal Protocol is widely hailed as the world’s most effective environmental treaty, protecting both the stratospheric ozone layer and the global climate. Lesser known is that its financial mechanism, the MLF, is the world’s most efficient source of funding for climate mitigation, costing just $0.07 to $1 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) mitigated, according to a new report.

More funding for the MLF means more opportunity for immediate-term mitigation over the next three years, including new and emerging opportunities for advanced action, lifecycle refrigerant management, and closing loopholes like the feedstock exemption that has allowed for the continued production and leakage of climate and ozone-damaging substances.

Why is this such a worthy investment?

The report, by authors from the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), highlights the efficacy of the MLF as a key to the success of the Montreal Protocol.

Looking back at success, the MLF has already assisted emerging economies in 144 countries to avoid over 51 billion tonnes of CO₂e greenhouse gas emissions since 1991.

Looking ahead, the report by IGSD and LBNL finds that fully funding the MLF could deliver more than 750 million metric tonnes of avoided emissions over the next three years — the equivalent of taking 150 million cars off the road for a whole year. Continued investment in the MLF to phasedown HFCs would avoid more than 30 billion metric tonnes of CO₂e through 2050. Plus, if refrigerant replacement is paired with improved energy efficiency and sound lifecycle refrigerant management, emission reductions could be doubled (or more) with the adoption of best practice policies.

Going forward, the reduced emissions can come at a cost of less than $1 per tonne of CO₂e, a bargain compared to most lower-cost mitigation options in industrial sectors closer to $20 per tonne — nearly 300 times more expensive.

The unique promise of the Multilateral Fund

While other financial channels are focusing on clean energy, maximizing the climate benefits of sustainable cooling equipment is readily achievable thanks to the proven track record of the Montreal Protocol and its effective institutions. The programs employed include replacing refrigerants with low global warming potential substitutes, improving energy efficiency in cooling equipment, and preventing the release of used refrigerants through lifecycle refrigerant management.

This near-doubling of the MLF to $965 million follows through on the commitment made in 2016 with the Kigali Agreement to phase down HFCs while improving the energy efficiency of cooling. Continuing to fully fund the MLF could transform the sustainable cooling sector. The report details potential climate and energy benefits “as among the very best investments for planetary protection and resilience building.”

A warming planet requires even more cooling

Faced with “global boiling,” more and more people will need access to sustainable cooling that doesn’t further warm the planet. This means scaling passive cooling solutions and increasing access to affordable, energy-efficient, and climate-friendly air conditioning and refrigeration. Meeting this need requires transforming the air conditioning and refrigeration sectors. This is one reason that COP28 is being heralded as the “Cooling COP” and will feature the launch of the Global Cooling Pledge on December 5.

Under the Kigali Amendment agreed to in 2016, the Montreal Protocol is now working to enable a transition to climate-friendly cooling that is also more energy efficient. By phasing down the use of climate-polluting HFCs, the Kigali Amendment is putting us on a path to avoid as much as 0.5° C by 2100, in addition to the 2.5° C listed above. The work includes significantly more benefits from improvements in energy efficiency and lifecycle refrigerant management.

For the past three decades, the Montreal Protocol and its Multilateral Fund have been shaping the cooling industry while putting the stratospheric ozone layer on the path to recovery and protecting the climate. It is no surprise when tallying its accomplishments, including phasing out 99% of ozone-depleting substances, putting the stratospheric ozone layer on track to recover by the 2060s, and avoiding as much as 1° C of warming through 2050, that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the Montreal Protocol “the most successful environmental treaty in history.”

Published December 4, 2023

Gabrielle Dreyfus

Chief Scientist, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD)

Noah Horowitz

Director, Clean Cooling Collaborative