Need for Air Conditioning May Contribute to Climate Change

Contributor(s): 
June 5, 2015

As climate change continues and temperatures rise, people around the world will have to adapt to new climate realities. Globally, household incomes are expected to continue rising over the coming decades, so as average temperatures increase most people will likely respond by increasing their use of air conditioning, thus potentially increasing electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent study of income growth, increasing temperatures, and air conditioning usage in Mexico attempts to determine how quickly air conditioning practices might change and what the consequences could be for the environment through increased electricity consumption. According to their model, the authors predict that households in all warm areas of Mexico will likely have air conditioners within a few decades, even using conservative assumptions about household income growth. Specifically, they predict that by 2100 as many as 81% of all Mexican households will have air conditioners, electricity consumption could increase by as much as 83% (costing more than $3 billion annually), and carbon dioxide emissions could increase by more than 23 million tons annually. However, these projected increases are dependent on the pace of technological change in the energy sector. Advances in air conditioning efficiency and green energy production in hot climates could mitigate the rise in electricity consumption costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, the study shows that as people change their behaviors to cope with climate change, technological advances must be made to avoid compounding the cost and scale of the problem.   

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Citation:

Davis, L., PJ Gertler (2015) Contribution of air conditioning adoption to future energy use under global warming. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112, 5962–5967.