Keeping ABOVE 26 degrees to help remaining BELOW 2 degrees

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Keeping ABOVE 26 degrees to help remaining BELOW 2 degrees

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China AC

While leading the OzonAction programme of United Nations which helped more than 145 developing countries to implement the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone Layer, I frequently came across the individuals and civil society organizations who were miles ahead of thoughts of United Nations. Their strikingly innovative and down to earth solutions have grooved in my mind forever.  The demonstrated creative approaches of these torchbearers went unsung and unrewarded but they made their indelible ‘hand-print’ on the environmental fabric torn by the ‘foot-prints’ of many of us.

One such ‘hand-print’ to erase the carbon and Ozone Depleting ‘foot prints’ came from a powerful campaign in country no other than China. That initiative is called ‘ 26 degree Celsius’.  In June, 2005, nine environmental protection organizations in Beijing launched a programme to set air conditioner at no lower than 26 degree Celsius in the office buildings, restaurants, shopping malls, supermarkets, schools and other public buildings so as to save energy and ease the power shortage in summer.

American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) which determined that 26.1 deg C was the upper temperature threshold at which most people could maintain comfort. For every degree a thermostat is set below 26 deg C, cooling costs increase by 6 percent.

The man who led this campaign in China was Mr. Wu Dengming, an activist who said he learned the activism from Mao’s liberation army.  He wanted to liberate China from the locks of high-energy consumption. Wu Dengming recently died but his down to earth positive activism would remain with us for years to come. Wu was ahead of the diplomats negotiating the Montreal Protocol. In 2007, 2 years after Wu’s campaign was launched in China, the governments amended the Montreal Protocol to accelerate the phase out of Hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs), which are ozone depleting as well as global warming gases. They are mainly used as refrigerants in room air conditioners and when leaked from equipment they not only harm the Ozone layer but also more severely contribute to global warming. The decision by the governments in the amended Montreal Protocol of 2007 encouraged countries to take energy efficiency benefits while phasing out HCFCs. Wu was instrumental in reorienting Chinese manufacturers of air conditioners (who manufacture more than 80 percent of world’s room AC) towards improving energy efficiency while phasing out HCFCs.

According to Wu’s statistics of 2005, at least 300 million kilowatt-hours of electricity could be saved if thermostat that regulates the room temperature, is set at 26 and not at 24 degree, 10 percent of electric loads could be reduced and 150 million RMB (about USD 20 million) could be saved in Beijing alone if the air conditioners in public buildings were to be set to 26 degree Celsius and not below that. At the same time it would also reduce the emission of 1,500 tons of sulfur dioxide and 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Reduction in air pollution was further bonus, so badly needed in Beijing.

China at that time was facing the most severe power shortage since the 1980s, with a gap of 30 million kilowatts between electricity demand and supply. A total of 24 provincial areas imposed power brownouts in summer of 2005.

In late 2011, when I was visiting   Japan, I learned that the government has regulated the AC temperatures in business and government buildings must not be below 28 deg C and that air conditioning can only be used between July and September. These rules came handy for Japanese in the aftermath of Tsunami when electricity shortages were wide spread. Indeed, the ‘comfort’ temperature is relative term as it depends on number of factors some of which are intangible and psychological.

I also saw in Tokyo, a tsunami of HFC-Free vending machines all over. They were called ‘ Green vending machines’. HFCs were used in the past as alternatives for CFCs in the vending machines. Now Japan has non-HFC alternatives like CO2 and Hydrocarbons as refrigerants

Imagine the reduction in CO2 emission all over the world if we have an international Protocol called  ‘26 deg C’ and that it only allows non-HFCs and non- HCFCs energy efficient air conditioners! It would contribute in limiting the global warming below 2 deg C above which, as per IPCC, there will be deadly consequences for the humanity.

While participating in the UN meetings in huge conference rooms, the interior temperature is many times even below 24 deg C. Some times we have to use warm clothes to get frozen! At that time I recall Mr. Wu Dengming and feel that we indeed need Mao’s philosophy of telling UN diplomats to go to farmers and learn from them. The farmers work   in their farms irrespective of temperatures and type of climate.

The time has come to adapt our needs to suit the temperatures and not to adapt the temperatures to our needs.

by Rajendra Shende , Chairman , TERRE Policy center and former Director UNEP.



Rajendra Shende

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