Skip to content
Thomson Reuters
Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: A fridge too far? How to keep cool without heating up the planet

Leaders from around the world are currently meeting in Bonn, Germany, to discuss solutions to slow down the rise in global temperatures.

The clock is ticking. Last year, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased at record speed, hitting a level not seen for more than three million years. The science is also clear: current actions pledged by governments will not be enough to prevent dangerous global warming.


Fortunately, there are a host of solutions, including a widespread and lasting shift to energy-efficient and climate-friendly refrigerators and air conditioners. This is one of the most needed and cost-effective solutions available to governments.

The consumer demand for cooling appliances is rapidly rising in developing and emerging economies as populations expand and economies grow. The total global stock of air conditioners is expected to increase from the current 660 million units to more than 1.5 billion units by 2030, while the stock of refrigerators will double from the current 1 billion units to nearly 2 billion units by 2030.

Air conditioning improves the health, productivity, and quality of life of people living in warm and humid climates. Refrigerators help preserve food and medicines, and are typically one of the first appliances to be bought once an electricity connection becomes available to a household. Their value in cutting food waste, another indirect driver of climate change, is also hugely valuable.

These cooling appliances keep us and our food cool, but they warm the planet. They impact climate in two ways: indirectly when fossil fuels are burned at power plants to generate electricity; and directly when gases used inside of the appliances leak.

While most developed countries have regulations to mitigate the energy and climate impacts of these products, many developing and emerging economies do not. Unfortunately, out-dated technologies are common and a lot of electricity is wasted around the world.

But there are proven ways to accelerate the adoption of appliances with performance far superior what is common in many markets.

By shifting to energy-efficient and climate-friendly air conditioners and refrigerators, developing and emerging economies can reduce their annual carbon dioxide emissions by 570 million tonnes by 2030. This reduces their annual air conditioner electricity demand by 30 per cent and that of refrigerators by 60 per cent.

South Africa, for example, could save 2 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually by 2030 by implementing new policies that allow for this change. This is equivalent to taking a million passenger cars off of its roads.

Taking stronger action on this issue will be enormously beneficial for both governments and businesses.

Energy-efficient and climate-friendly appliance technologies are increasingly available, as a growing number of appliance manufacturers are working toward cutting the adverse impacts of their products. Companies that incorporate climate change into their business strategies will be in a winning position tomorrow.

Governments should implement new policies that help manufacturers’ energy-efficient and climate-friendly appliances enter markets to meet growing demand for cooling services.

UN Environment, in partnership with leading companies and expert organisations, is helping governments in more than 30 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to develop and implement such policies through its United for Efficiency initiative.

With new funding by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program, United for Efficiency is accelerating much-needed support to governments to adopt impactful and cost-effective policies.

A global transition to energy-efficient and climate-friendly appliances will make it possible for citizens around the world to enjoy the benefits of refrigerators and air conditioners while lessening their impact on the planet.

It’s time to cut the vicious cycle, and ensure that while we need to stay cool, so too does our planet.

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: A Powerful New Engine For Green Finance EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Sustainable agriculture powers a global business EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Lack of Data Creating Growing Risk EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Serving People Well – RBS and #GivingTuesday EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: #GivingTuesday Around the World EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Partnering for impact EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: How much has impact investing realized its potential? EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Global Tree Cover Loss Rose 51 Percent in 2016 EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Creating Community Resilience in Every City EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: “We’ll never truly end hunger if we don’t end the wars” – World Food Programme