21 November 2019
Lack of Sustainable Cooling Threatens Safety, Health and Food Security of Hundreds of Millions
Photo by Peter Berko
story highlights

The report finds that public safety, health, safe medicine and food supply for 1.05 billion people in poor rural and urban areas are now at risk from lack of access to cooling.

The report recommends that countries develop comprehensive national cooling plans.

To help accelerate access to cooling, SEforALL also recommends: prioritize the most vulnerable; ensure efficiency and affordability at the “Base of the Pyramid;” and cities and local authorities should identify priority actions.

From France to Australia to Kenya, 2019 has been a record-breaking year for global temperatures. As heatwaves become the norm, new research from Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) shows that significant populations are at an increasing risk from lack of access to sustainable cooling, threatening a spike in global energy demand, profound climate impacts and our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly goals on hunger, poverty and health.

The report titled, ‘Chilling Prospects: Tracking Sustainable Cooling for All 2019,’ shines a light on the growing cooling access challenge. The report finds that public safety, health, safe medicine and food supply for 1.05 billion people in poor rural and urban areas are now at risk from lack of access to cooling. That includes lack of adequate refrigeration, access to energy needed to power a reliable fan or air conditioner and enhanced building design and materials that limit the impacts of peak temperatures.

Launched at the 31st Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP 31) in Rome, Italy, this year’s Chilling Prospects tracking report highlights the fast action that has been made in the last year, but also the depth of cooling needs. The report recommends taking the next step to better understand the basic need for cooling before offering a solution based on the belief that cooling is a luxury only for those who can afford it. For many, solutions include shared community cooling hubs, or a pay-as-you-store cold storage for a farmer’s crops. They also include simple solutions like planting trees, adding shading or passive design to limit the need for energy-using mechanical cooling.   

Lack of cooling access is also putting our economic growth at risk. By 2030, the cost of productivity losses is estimated to be USD 2 trillion, and the developing world could suffer the greatest “productivity penalty” – the impact of dealing with record temperatures and lack of cooling, stunting economic growth and further exacerbating global cooling inequity.

This impact will be most profound in urban areas. This year’s report, the second in the Chilling Prospects series, shows a notable growth in the numbers of “urban poor” – those living in cities yet often lacking reliable access to electricity – at highest risk from a lack of cooling access. As many as 680 million people living in urban slums have little or no cooling to protect them in a heatwave – a rise of 50 million people in the past year – with an additional 365 million people living in poor rural areas also at high risk.

A further 2.2 billion people present a different risk. A rising lower-middle class in developing countries are purchasing cheaper, least efficient air conditioners, which could lead to a spike in energy demand, a rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, an increase in urban heat and a further push of global temperatures higher.

Therefore, in a warming world facing potentially deadly impacts from climate change, we cannot view cooling as a luxury. In a heatwave, it can be a matter of life or death for children and the elderly. Sustainable cooling ensures that workers are productive, families can store nutritious food securely, and infants can receive an effective vaccine in a rural clinic. Delivering sustainable cooling is an issue of equity that will enable millions to escape poverty (SDG 1) and help to realize many other SDGs.

The 2019 Chilling Prospects report takes stock of progress, highlights new solutions, and calls on stakeholders to urgently work together to reduce the number of people at risk from lack of access to cooling. It also provides a new tool, ‘The Cooling for All Needs Assessment,’ produced in partnership with Heriot-Watt University, for governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and development institutions to understand the market for cooling needs based on comfort, safety, nutrition and health needs.

One immediate next step the report recommends is for countries to develop comprehensive national cooling plans. Since July 2018, India, China and Rwanda have developed national cooling plans, and a further 26 are in progress. But these plans must go beyond the need for mechanical cooling, projections for equipment sales, and gross domestic product (GDP) growth in order to deliver sustainable cooling for all. The Cooling for All Needs Assessment is a response to this issue. By using the assessment in a national cooling plan, governments can plan and invest to minimize the cooling demand, aggregate technologies and services, and harness renewable energy solutions.

To help accelerate access to cooling, SEforALL also recommends three action-oriented responses:

  • Donors, development practitioners and financiers should prioritize the most vulnerable. To do so, they must harness a diverse set of financing tools to deliver universal cooling access. It is also necessary to track financial flows directed towards access to cooling for at risk populations. 
  • Industry and business must ensure efficiency and affordability at the “Base of the Pyramid,” accelerating action through skills development, maintenance and technician training. 
  • In addition to supporting policy planning at the national level, cities and local authorities should use the Cooling for All Needs Assessment to identify priority actions to protect their most vulnerable populations.  

The Chilling Prospects research is part of SEforALL’s Cooling for All initiative. Read the report in full here and share your thoughts using #CoolingforAll.  

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This article was written by Brian Dean, Head of Energy Efficiency and Cooling at SEforALL. Brian’s role focuses on creating and executing the overall strategy for SEforALL’s engagement in the space of energy efficiency and cooling. Brian has spent more than 22 years supporting energy efficiency and cooling from a range of projects, including policy development, building design, energy analytics and software development. He joined SEforALL after spending five years with the International Energy Agency (IEA). As the Lead for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, he was responsible for investment and policy tracking, the annual Global Status Report on Buildings and Construction as well as the Future of Cooling report.

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