Limiting global warming to 1.5°C: the potential contribution of the refrigeration sector

The latest IPCC report stresses the importance to limit the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5°C instead of 2°C in order to lower the adaptation needs. The refrigeration sector can contribute to this objective.

The Paris Agreement adopted by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015 included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” As part of the decision to adopt the Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was invited to produce a Special Report on global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. This report was published on October 8, 20181.

Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

Most adaptation needs will be lower for global warming of 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C. With clear benefits to ecosystems, food and health systems, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC compared to 2ºC could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society, the IPCC says.

However, limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.

The report examines pathways available – combining adaptation and mitigation options – to limit warming to 1.5ºC, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be.

Total annual average energy-related mitigation investment for the period 2015 to 2050 in pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C is estimated to be around 900 billion USD2015. It represents an increase in total energy-related investments of about 12% in 1.5°C pathways relative to 2°C pathways.

In chapter 4 of the report, concerning the main Short-Lived Climate Forcer (SLCF) emissions that cause warming, the IPCC stresses that the radiative forcing from HFCs, mainly used in refrigeration and air conditioning, is currently small but has been growing rapidly. HFC mitigation options include alternatives with reduced warming effects, ideally combined with improved energy efficiency so as to simultaneously reduce CO2 and co-emissions. Costs for most of HFC mitigation potential are estimated to be below USD2010  60 per tCO2-eq.

Among the urban and infrastructure system transitions needed to take into account that there will be around 70 million additional urban residents every year through to the mid part of this century, the IPCC identifies large saving potential in heating and cooling through improved building design, efficient equipment, lighting and appliances. Several examples of net zero energy in buildings are now available. Greenhouse gas emission reductions can be enabled by the rapid progress of General Purpose Technologies (GPTs), consisting of Information and Communication Technologies. IPCC considers Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet-of-Things (IoT) and nanotechnologies as valuable GPTs for "smart lighting and air conditioning".

Mitigation and adaptation options related to land use and ecosystems include food loss and waste management. Around one-third of the food produced on the planet is not consumed. In this context, the IIR reiterates that refrigeration can make a significant contribution to addressing the food loss issue since the loss of perishable foods through a lack of refrigeration represents over 20% of the world production2.

IPCC stresses that all pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot project the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) on the order of 100–1000 GtCO2 over the 21st century. CDR technologies include Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage (DACCS) in the fossil-fuelled power sector and in non-power industry where it is generally considered more feasible. Low-temperature (cryogenic) separation is one of the state-of-the-art CO2 capture technologies currently investigated.

1 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Global Warming of 1.5°C. Link.

2 This ratio does not include final losses at consumer level ; 5th IIR Informatory Note on Refrigeration and Food "The Role of Refrigeration in Worldwide Nutrition", 2009.