The Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP): An exciting new philanthropic initiative makes its debut

Blog Post Cooling
Published March 27, 2017

Charlotte Pera

Former President & CEO

On Monday, March 27, an exciting new philanthropic initiative made its debut.

The Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) is a collaboration among 18 foundations that came together in September 2016 to announce a joint commitment of $52 million to help developing countries transition to energy efficient, climate-friendly, affordable cooling solutions. This is the largest single philanthropic commitment that has ever been made to advance energy efficiency in the developing world.

K-CEP was catalyzed by the Montreal Protocol, the famously successful 1987 international treaty that saved the ozone layer by phasing out global emissions of ozone-depleting substances, primarily chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Because CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances are also greenhouse gases, the Montreal Protocol resulted in massive additional benefits for the climate. By some estimates the Montreal Protocol has prevented the equivalent of 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from entering the atmosphere, making it the most significant greenhouse gas reduction program in history.

But in the years after the Montreal Protocol went into effect, a harmful side-effect became evident: manufacturers were replacing CFCs with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), compounds that don’t damage the ozone layer but are, instead, greenhouse gases hundreds to thousands of times more potent than CO2. Over the last few decades, HFCs became very widely used in products like refrigerators, air conditioners, and insulation, and researchers began to predict that HFC emissions under a business-as-usual scenario could grow to the equivalent of one-fifth of global CO2 emissions by 2050. Recognizing this new challenge, climate advocates, governments, companies, and other stakeholders have been working for years to amend the Montreal Protocol to replace HFCs with alternative coolants that are kinder to the climate.

In October 2016, this sustained effort culminated in a landmark agreement at the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda to amend the Protocol to phase down HFCs. The Kigali amendment prompted headlines around the world and inspired hope that the world is capable of controlling climate change.

In advance of the negotiations, the announcement of $52 million from philanthropic donors—plus a complementary $27 million from donor countries—to help developing nations transition to better cooling solutions, set a positive tone of ambition. Now that the agreement is in place, K-CEP will help the Kigali amendment succeed by making cooling more energy efficient. The Program’s goal is to “significantly increase and accelerate the climate and development benefits of the Montreal Protocol refrigerant transition by maximizing a simultaneous improvement in the energy efficiency of cooling.” Pursuing “simultaneous improvement” is smart. The Kigali amendment will necessarily drive changes in product designs, manufacturing, and markets as the sector transitions to low-global warming potential refrigerants. It makes good business sense to transition to more energy efficient equipment at the same time. Moreover, K-CEP will look beyond more efficient equipment to deliver low-cost cooling through building design, shade, fans, and other solutions.

The timing of this effort is crucial. Air conditioning is still relatively rare in many countries, but researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory project that the number of room air conditioners globally will nearly double from about 900 million in 2015 to 1.6 billion by 2030. We’ve seen fast market growth before: In urban China, use of air conditioners went from nearly zero in 1992 to about 100 percent in just 15 years. In the coming years, hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets will benefit when they purchase air conditioning for the first time. If the market moves to energy efficient cooling technologies that use climate-friendly refrigerants and other sustainable cooling solutions, the impact of this beneficial growth on global climate change will be greatly reduced.

The ClimateWorks Foundation is one of the 18 foundations that contributed to the $52 million commitment. We are also privileged to be the home of the K-CEP Efficiency Cooling Office. The Efficiency Cooling Office will essentially serve as the K-CEP program office, providing grant-making, reporting, program management, and other services to help K-CEP funders maximize the climate and development benefits of their commitments.

I am excited about K-CEP, and the ClimateWorks Foundation’s role in it, for three reasons:

1. Affordable, energy efficient cooling can dramatically improve people’s lives

Cooling protects public health and increases productivity, particularly in hot climates. Cooling is needed to keep vaccines and medicines stable, to preserve the nutritional value and taste of food, and to keep patients comfortable. Cooling is also needed to keep people safe during heatwaves, which regularly claim thousands of lives in both developed and developing countries. In this century of climate change, heatwaves will get worse and the health impacts will fall disproportionately on developing countries. For example, scientists project that heat waves will intensify across India in the coming decades, potentially leading to severe heat stress and increased mortality. In addition to public health hazards, a number of studies show that high temperatures reduce economic productivity.

2. The climate benefits of this transformation are huge

The transition to climate-friendly refrigerants combined with more energy efficient cooling can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists estimate that the Kigali amendment alone could avoid as much as 0.5° C of warming by 2100, giving a powerful boost to the international effort to keep global average temperature rise well below 2°C this century. And researchers estimate simultaneous improvements in energy efficiency could potentially double this benefit. ClimateWorks is funding new modeling to verify potential mitigation benefits, but there is no question the coming Kigali-driven transformation of cooling technology is one of the biggest climate solutions available.

3. K-CEP is an exciting model for philanthropic collaboration

The scale of this collaboration, the speed with which it came together, the potential for impact, and the intensity of ongoing funder cooperation as K-CEP moves into implementation are truly extraordinary. Many factors came together to make this work. A few pioneer foundations, including the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), Pisces Foundation, and ClimateWorks Foundation, invested over several years to help create the Kigali opportunity, and kept partner foundations apprised of progress. The excellence of the grantees who worked tirelessly toward an HFC amendment encouraged funders to engage. Philanthropic leaders like Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer and CIFF CEO Kate Hampton made a compelling case to other funders to seize the Kigali opportunity. K-CEP funders seized the moment and acted swiftly to make generous commitments, buoyed by the trust we’ve built together within the climate philanthropy community in recent years. Finally, a number of individuals across several institutions poured their time, expertise, and passion into creating K-CEP and the Efficiency Cooling Office.

Of course, K-CEP will only succeed if it actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves people’s lives by helping them adopt affordable, energy efficient, climate-friendly cooling options, so it is critically important that we track results. K-CEP funders are developing a “Kigali Progress Tracker,” a shared results framework that will be used to track activities, outcomes, and impacts. A “scorecard” and regular reports will support real-time learning to share with the parties, institutions, and agencies of the Montreal Protocol and help K-CEP funders deploy funding as effectively as possible.

I’m confident that this bold, collaborative venture will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve living conditions by helping people adopt affordable, energy efficient, climate-friendly cooling options. In many ways, projects like this are what philanthropy does best—apply “patient capital” to create opportunities and then move quickly to help leaders tip the scales toward transformational change, producing benefits people will feel for many years to come. This day was a long time in coming, but thanks to the work of a great network of funders and grantees, I’m very pleased to say that it’s finally here.