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As World Warms, Millions More Need Cooling (and This Could Cause More Warming)


Lack of cooling threatens health, vaccines, food, and economic productivity

Washington, DC, 16 July 2018 — As the world warms up, the growing use of air conditioning and other cooling equipment will accelerate, and in a dangerous feedback loop, the extra energy needed to power the equipment will itself increase global warming as long as it comes from fossil fuel.

Two authoritative reports published during a week that has seen record high temperatures set all over the world grapple with how to break this vicious circle, and keep people cool without heating the planet.

The reports are from an international organization and a British University and are the first to quantify the scale of the challenge of bringing cooling to everyone on Earth that needs it and to try to work out what needs to be done.

“Lack of cooling kills, but so does providing inefficient cooling, which perversely will cause more warming. This dilemma is a blind spot in our effort to decarbonize energy systems and it needs to be addressed immediately by making all cooling super-efficient”, said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, adding “there are many ways that can help us keep cool, including planting shade trees and smart building designs, other than relying on mechanical air conditioning and refrigeration.”

The first report, Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All, published by Sustainable Energy for All and the Kigali-Cooling Efficiency Program, calculates that “as the planet warms, around 30 per cent of the world's population is currently exposed to life-threatening temperatures for at least 20 days a year”, adding that heat waves “already kill an estimated 12,000 people annually across the world.”

By 2050, it continues, citing World Health Organization estimates, deaths from more extreme heat waves could multiply more than twenty-fold to reach 255,000 a year and “by the end of this century three-quarters of humanity will face deadly heat.”

Currently, the report calculates that over 1.1 billion people globally face immediate risks from lack of access to cooling, threatening the ability of millions to escape poverty, to keep our children healthy, vaccines stable, food nutritious, and our economies productive.

While only eight per cent of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world now have air conditioning, this is rising rapidly. Room air conditioning ownership in India more than doubled from two million to five million between 2006 and 2011 and is forecast to reach 200 million by 2030.

The second report, A Cool World - Defining the Energy Conundrum of ‘Cooling for All, from the University of Birmingham's Energy Institute, says that 3.6 billion cooling appliances are used around the world, and estimates that the number will increase to 9.5 billion worldwide by 2050, rising to 14 billion if everyone is to gain access to cooling.

It adds that achieving all 17 of the internationally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) depends to some extent on developing clean cooling technologies. And both reports point out that the issue intersects not just with the SDGs, but with the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol phasing down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) refrigerants that cause global warming.

Both reports also urge countries strictly to comply with the amendment and recommend doubling of the average energy efficiency of cooling devices, among other measures.

Zaelke commented, “We have an immediate opportunity to improve the efficiency of cooling equipment today as we switch out of climate warming refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons under the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol.”

Romina Picolotti, President of the Center for Human Rights and Environment, said, “The Paris Agreement and the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali amendment have brought attention to the close linkages between cooling, energy demand, and climate change. But cooling is also a development issue and there needs to be far greater recognition of its role addressing poverty and achieving the SDGs. We must learn to achieve cooling so that its access means progress and not a collective suicide.”

Following the successful Kigali amendment, Rwanda and the Africa Group have taken the lead promoting energy efficiency of cooling devices during the phase down of HFCs, including tabling a proposed decision at the Montreal Protocol’s Open-Ended Working Group meeting that concluded in Vienna late Saturday night, 14 July 2018, Access of parties operating under paragraph 1 of Article 5 of the Montreal Protocol to energy-efficient technologies in the refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat-pump sectors: Submission by Rwanda on behalf of the African Group.

The SEforAll and K-CEP report, Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All, is here, and their press release here.

The University of Birmingham’s Energy Institute report, A Cool World - Defining the Energy Conundrum of ‘Cooling for All’, is here, and their press release here.