Keeping cool in the face of climate change

© UNICEF/Chris Herwig Maintaining a cold chain is vital to the work of mobile health teams like this one in Jordan.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


As global temperatures reach record highs, providing cooling systems which are effective, sustainable and which do not harm the environment is increasingly essential for everyday life. That’s according to Rachel Kyte, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All, and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL).

From the cold chain systems that maintain uninterrupted refrigeration during the  delivery of food and vaccines, to protection from extreme heat waves globally – access to cooling is a fundamental issue of equity, and as temperatures hit record levels, for some, it can mean the difference between life and death.

UN News asked Rachel Kyte why she is so passionate about cooling.

What is sustainable cooling?

Cooling is essential to human health and prosperity. As the world rapidly urbanizes, warms and populations grow, cooling is an urgent development challenge that has important ramifications for our climate. It requires fast action to protect the most vulnerable, and is vital for economic productivity by allowing workers, farmers and students to work in comfortable environments.

Yet as cooling needs rise, we must meet these challenges in an energy-efficient way, or the risks to life, health and the planet will be significant. At the same time, they provide equally important business opportunities for companies or entrepreneurs who can design and produce hyper-efficient cooling devices at affordable prices for this rapidly growing market.

Why is this such an important issue?

SEforALL’s “Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All” report shows there are more than 1.1 billion people globally who face immediate risks from lack of access to cooling.

These risks are issues of both development and climate change, as they pose problems for the health, safety, and productivity of populations across the world – especially countries in Asia and Africa where access gaps are the largest. This challenge offers business and entrepreneurs the opportunity of major new consumer markets which require super-efficient, affordable technologies to meet their cooling needs.

How does cooling relate to the global goals?

Sustainable cooling creates a direct intersection between three internationally agreed goals: the Paris Agreement; the Sustainable Development Goals; and the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment – with one of the key goals of the amendment to limit consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas used widely in air conditioners and refrigerators.

As all countries have agreed to these goals, creating a national, hyper-efficient cooling plan that doesn’t risk a rise in emissions or peak energy demand will be critical to deliver sustainable cooling for all and meet global goals.

A clean energy transition is already underway globally that can provide affordable, safe and sustainable energy for all. We must now incorporate cooling for all needs within this transition, while keeping us on track to reach our global climate and energy goals.

Where in the world do people find it most difficult to access cooling?

Based on the “Chilling Prospects” analysis, of the 1.1 billion people who lack access globally, 470 million people are in poor rural areas without access to safe food and medicines, and 630 million people are in hotter, urban slums with little or no cooling to protect them against extreme heatwaves.

Nine countries have the biggest populations facing significant cooling risks. These countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America include: India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, Mozambique and Sudan.

With global temperatures only set to rise, providing these populations with access to sustainable cooling will be critical to ensuring their safety.

To what extent does cooling contribute to global warming – especially in developed countries where air conditioning machines are widely used to cool high summer temperatures?

It is estimated that cooling is now responsible for about 10% of global warming and growing rapidly. Future choices about refrigerants, the efficiency of cooling technologies, and how cooling is powered will have a significant impact on achieving the Paris Climate Agreement. Previous research indicates that by 2050, work hour losses by country due to excessive heat and lack of access to cooling are expected to be more than 2% and a high as 12%.

With the destructive effects of climate change now being widely felt, government policy-makers, business leaders, investors and civil society must increase access to sustainable cooling solutions for all through benchmarking progress, access to cooling initiatives to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations from intensifying global heat and national cooling plans from government.

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