Global Energy Forum in Kigali, Rwanda on Tuesday, shows that the risks to the most vulnerable from extreme heat are growing because of a lack of access to sustainable cooling. People will remain at high risk if we fail to meet key SDGs that enable access to cooling: universal electrification and eradicating extreme poverty.
SEforALL is the international organization that works in partnership with the United Nations (UN), leaders in government, and others, to drive faster action on access to energy. Its Chilling Prospects report assessed 76 countries with cooling access challenges and found that, globally, 1.2 billion people do not have adequate access to cooling—threatening their ability to survive extreme heat, store nutritious food, or receive a safe vaccine. For the first time, Chilling Prospects forecasts access to cooling risks in 2030. It finds that current trends will leave more people at high risk at the end of the decade, but a pathway that delivers universal electricity access and ends extreme poverty by 2030 would reduce the number of people at high risk by 36%, or more than 450 million people.
Launched during a joint event with UNEP led Cool Coalition, the report is a stark reminder that for millions of people, daily life cannot stop when temperatures hit heatwave levels. For those living below the poverty line or without access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy, their ability to adapt and thrive is held back without access to cooling.
Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for SEforALL, said: “Cooling is a make-or-break issue for the Sustainable Development Goals and the environment. With one in every seven people at risk from life-threatening temperatures or broken cold chains, neither people nor the planet can afford inaction on sustainable cooling.”
Life on a warming planet means more extreme weather and a greater likelihood of devastating heatwaves. In 2014, the World Health Organization predicted that 12,000 people would lose their lives annually due to heatwaves. Eight years on, we know the scale of the challenge is greater: new research for the Lancet shows that extreme heat caused the deaths of 356,000 people in 2019 alone.
As confirmed by the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Adaptation, the risks of heat extremes are even higher in cities. By 2050, 68% of the global population is expected to live in urban areas, with the number of megacities exceeding 10 million inhabitants expected to reach 43—many of these in developing regions.
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “We need everybody acting under one vision to decarbonize the cooling sector by 2050. A vision of a world in which we keep our planet, homes and workplaces cool by combining the right technologies with the power of the natural world.”
Nature-based solutions such as tree planting help green urban areas and increase access to shade.
Technology-based solutions are such as affordable, hyper-efficient air conditioners, well-designed buildings, and district cooling systems.
Such solutions are vital to reach the UN’s SDG 7: Access to Affordable and Clean Energy, and investment and commitment is needed now.
Damilola Ogunbiyi added: “The data shows that business as usual means there will be more vulnerable people by 2030, making our efforts to deliver SDG 7 and the Paris Agreement more challenging. In a warming world, both equitable economies and just, inclusive clean energy transitions rely on rapidly delivering sustainable cooling for all. We also need to rapidly shift to sustainable technologies, so access to cooling does not worsen global climate change”.
Cooling means for poverty and food security
Recent heatwaves across India and Pakistan brought blistering temperatures of up to 50°C together with widespread power cuts.
Extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as those living on less than USD$1.90 per day) compounds cooling access risks for already marginalized rural and urban dwellers.
Rural populations across the globe are getting poorer and have fewer options available to them. For example, rural poor communities now make up 36% of the Indian population and while electricity access is at almost 100%, ownership of cooling devices is low. With a population of 1.4 billion, the country has just 162 million refrigerators.
Many of those in rural poverty engage in subsistence farming and lack access to refrigeration. For small-scale commercial farmers in rural settings, a lack of access to an intact cold chain prevents them from selling their products further afield at a higher price.
An estimated 13% of all food production is lost due to a lack of cold chain infrastructure.
Lack of access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable cold chains is a contributory factor to food loss. In high-impact countries, India loses 17% of its perishable foods, and China almost 50%.
Cooling means for health
Vaccines must typically have consistent cold storage between 2°C and 8°C to maintain their efficacy. Some vaccines also require ultra-cold chain (UCC) storage of -20°C to -70°C for initial storage, as was the case for some COVID-19 vaccines.
Blood, insulin, and some medicines also require cooling, with blood storage requiring temperatures between 2°C and 6°C, and fresh frozen plasma needing below -30°C.