“Absolutely disastrous”: Air conditioners have a negative impact on the environment, activists warn

If you’ve faced a sweltering heat wave by blowing up the air conditioning, you’re not alone.

As the planet warms, more and more people are turning to air conditioning to stay cool.

But these energy-intensive, chemical-leaking units have a huge impact on the planet.

With the world number of air conditioners expected to triple by 2050, experts warn that a change of course is urgently needed.

Here’s why – and where it’s best in Europe alternatives.

How bad is air conditioning for the planet?

Air conditioners consume more electricity than any other appliance in the house. Together with electric fans, they consume 10% of global electricity.

The media unit is only a third as efficient as possible, warns Sophie Geoghegan, a climate activist at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based green NGO.

“These energy-intensive appliances often run many, many hours a day,” he says.

“When it comes to commercial refrigeration, they are always on.

“According to the International Energy Agency, by 2050, fans and room cooling will consume the same electricity as all of China and India today.”

Unfortunately, power consumption is only part of the problem. AC units also lose hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants (HFCs), gases with powerful planet-warming properties.

The most commonly used refrigerant, R-410A, is 2,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

These gases are “the elephant in the room,” warns Geoghegan.

“It’s terrifying. Given how many people are buying air conditioners, it could absolutely be disastrous,” she says.

Which countries in Europe regulate air conditioning best?

Some countries in Europe have taken steps to minimize their use.

Italy and Spain have imposed rules on how much AC can be set up in government buildings, including schools. In Italy it cannot be set at a temperature below 25 degrees centigrade. In Spain, the lower limit is 27 degrees.

In France, government buildings can only turn on the air conditioning if the outside temperature exceeds 26 degrees. The country was recently banned air-conditioned shops from keeping their doors open.

In Switzerland, some cantons regulate the purchase of air conditioning. People in Geneva must have a “compelling reason” to buy AC, such as certain health conditions.

Germany has green procurement standards for public procurement, which require CAs purchased in this way to meet certain environmental standards.

Countries outside Europe have also campaigned against the excessive use of air conditioning.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, energy saving, or “setsuden”, became a national project for Japan.

The national environment ministry estimated that raising the air conditioning unit temperature by just one degree resulted in about 13% lower energy consumption.

In turn, workplaces have turned up thermostats, urging employees to wear lighter clothing in the summer.

They are welcome initiatives, but they are “baby steps”, says Geoghegan. Stronger action is needed.

What can we do about the environmental impact of air conditioning?

The best solution is to design where we live so that we simply don’t need air conditioning to cool down.

Urban planning plays an important role in this. Maximizing trees e green space, positioning buildings to maximize shade and ventilation and embracing the water features are all important steps.

During the 2007 heatwave, French authorities set up community cooling spaces – air-conditioned spaces where people could congregate – to reduce dependence on individual air conditioning.

“A world where every single person has an air conditioning unit is not a sustainable world,” says Geoghegan.

However, it recognizes that some people need air conditioners, especially the most vulnerable and those who live in warmer areas the world.

To meet this demand, governments need to bind the industry to stricter regulatory standards.

This begins by gradually eliminating harmful HFCs and replacing them with more environmentally friendly refrigerants, such as ammonia, CO2, and hydrocarbons such as propane.

The EU’s “F-Gas Regulation” aims to reduce F-gas emissions by two thirds of 2010 levels by 2030. It is currently under discussion.

“The phasedown of HFCs in Europe is currently under review by the EU,” says Geoghegan.

“Governments must undergo a very ambitious review of this legislation.”

To help consumers choose more environmentally friendly options, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace have launched the Cool Technologies website.

The database shows the best HFC-free cooling technology.

Governments should financially incentivize the purchase of these technologies, impose eco-labeling on units and adopt minimum national standards.

“This is a low fruit,” says Geoghegan.

“The technology is there, we just need a legislative push to involve the industry.

“For people, I’d say: really consider if you really need an air conditioner. If you have to get one, you have to do your homework. “

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