The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Noah Horowitz, director of the Clean Cooling Collaborative at the ClimateWorks Foundation.
When I was a chemical engineering student, they taught us: A plus B makes C, and you want to make as much C as possible. There’s this thing called D, which is the waste. We put that in a barrel, and it gets sent to a landfill or incinerated. And I kept saying, “What about D?”
We were also learning that many of these landfills were leaking. They were poisoning our water and impacting communities. That was my “aha” moment. I changed from studying chemical engineering and got a Master’s in environmental engineering, so I could help prevent hazardous waste from being generated and treat that which is.
I like to think of my journey as the evolution of an environmentalist. Just out of school, I’d put on a white plastic moon suit and go to landfill sites to figure out how deep the waste went – and how to clean it up. I’d take samples from streams and climb up stacks in refineries and factories to measure pollution levels. It was mind-boggling. And I was asking myself: “What can we do to prevent waste, and future catastrophes like leaks from happening?”
From waste to cooling
So, I took a job at the Quaker Oats company, a global food manufacturer. My job was to make sure their 50 factories spread around the world complied with environmental laws, reduced their energy and water use, and properly treated their wastes. Then I shifted to solely working on energy for the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council. I jumped at that opportunity because energy use in buildings and related power plant emissions is one of the major sources of climate change.
One of their projects was working with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to improve the energy efficiency of new air conditioners. The aim was to make sure all air conditioners sold in the world were subject to a decent regulatory standard and that emerging economies aren’t dumping grounds for the inefficient units that can’t be sold elsewhere. That opened my eyes to how important cooling is. It’s responsible for about 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions today and is due to grow dramatically as the planet continues to warm.
Three billion more air conditioners
At the Clean Cooling Collaborative, we work to make sure cooling is energy-efficient and climate-friendly and that people have the cooling that they need. The planet keeps getting warmer, populations are growing, and urbanization is increasing. As a result, during the next few decades, three billion more air conditioners will be installed around the world.
Many of these will be in the world’s hottest and most humid climates. That’s going to put a huge stress on the electric grid. So, to succeed in our transition to renewable energy, we need to make sure those air conditioners and refrigerators are as efficient as possible. Otherwise, we’re going to run a lot more power plants, many of them still using fossil fuels, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions and dirty air.
And even if we switch to renewables like solar energy, the sun doesn’t shine at night. So, how are we going to power people’s air conditioners when they come home from work? In some climates, everyone with an AC switches it on in the evening so they can safely withstand extreme heat and sleep comfortably. Ensuring the new units are as efficient as possible will take stress off the grid, reduce the amount of battery storage that will be needed, and help accelerate the transition away from dirty power plants.
It’s clear that the world needs a better air conditioner. There was a competition called the Global Cooling Prize, which aimed to develop an air conditioner five times more efficient than a traditional model. Prototypes were developed that proved it was possible.
At the Clean Cooling Collaborative, we’re trying to make sure these new models are actually brought to market. I’m delighted that a model which comes closer to hitting the five times increased efficiency target than any previous unit will soon be available in a market in the Middle East. And that’s one of the focal points of our work: how do we scale up these innovative technologies that provide cooling for all in a more climate-friendly way? We are also looking at ways to bring more refrigeration systems into rural agricultural systems to help reduce food loss and to improve farmers’ livelihoods and people’s access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Opportunities in adversity
The previous administration in the US caused major challenges for many in the environmental community. They were committed to not only slowing down progress but to reversing regulations and slashing the budgets of the agencies in charge of protecting the environment. For example, I’d helped draft legislation that phased out inefficient incandescent light bulbs in the US that was due to take effect in 2020. But the previous administration shut it down. They created various ways to delay the implementation of a rule that could have prevented hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and saved consumers billions of dollars on their utility bills.
Those were dark times, but I’m an optimist and I believe we must keep trying – and trying different things. Many of us would not be deterred and asked: “What more can we do at the state and local level?” We took that opportunity and looked under different rocks to keep the progress going.
Getting cooling right
Within the next five years, I hope the least efficient refrigerators and air conditioners will no longer be sold. I’m also hoping there will be a new air conditioner available for all to purchase, with a climate impact five times lower than today’s conventional air conditioner.
If I had two minutes to speak at COP28, I’d start by saying that cooling is no longer a luxury but a human right. More and more people around the world are suffering and dying from exposure to extreme heat and it’s only going to get worse as the planet continues to warm. We need to work together and ensure that energy-efficient climate-friendly cooling is available for all.
I’d also give people three numbers to remember: three billion, over a billion, and one hundred.
What do these numbers represent? Firstly, there will be three billion more air conditioners in use around the world by 2050. Secondly, over a billion people today don’t have access to the cooling that they need to stay safe and productive – a number that’s only growing. And thirdly, we could help prevent one hundred gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if we shift to more energy-efficient cooling solutions.
My biggest hope is that we double down on our commitment to address climate change. It’s not an option anymore. Where I live in California, we’re seeing extended droughts and are rapidly running out of water. We’ve had horrendous forest fires that have devastated entire communities. We need to do all we can to win this battle against climate change. And I’m confident, if we all get together, we can do this. We need to be a lot smarter in how we build things and how we use them. This means governments doing the right thing, businesses stepping up, and people buying the right products.
The other thing I’d encourage people to do is to get outside. The natural world around us is amazing. Let’s take some time and get off our phones, get off our computers, and enjoy all the beautiful things our planet has to offer.
Finally, let’s all commit to doing the little things we can control, that together will lead to massive environmental benefits and a better life for all.
Noah Horowitz is the director of the Clean Cooling Collaborative (CCC) at the ClimateWorks Foundation, which aims to make energy-efficient climate-friendly cooling for all around the world. CCC’s programme is anchored around three areas:
- Avoid or reduce the need for mechanical cooling.
- Improve the efficiency of mechanical cooling when it is needed.
- Increase access to those that struggle to purchase the cooling equipment needed.
CCC is a pooled fund that makes grants to organisations that align with our mission of achieving energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling for all. The IKEA Foundation is supporting CCC to scale this critically important work.
While CCC is a global programme, it focuses its grant-making in four parts of the world: India, Southeast Asia, China, and the US. That’s because these regions represent 75% of all future cooling-related greenhouse gas emissions.