A new report is calling on policymakers to recognise the critical importance of cooling and cold chain infrastructure as humanity adapts to a heating planet.

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The Hot Reality: Living in a +50°C World is published by the Centre for Sustainable Cooling and the Africa Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Cooling and Cold-Chain (ACES) in Kigali. The report describes the dangers humanity faces as global temperatures look set to race beyond the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, as well as the enormous benefits that would accrue from developing sustainable cooling infrastructure.

“The provision of cooling is not an optional extra or a lifestyle luxury,” said co-author Toby Peters, Professor of Cold Economy at Birmingham University and Heriot-Watt University, and co-director of the Centre for Sustainable Cooling.

“It is a critical service for a well-functioning, well-adapted, resilient, and healthy society, and economy, enabling access to the basic essentials of life, such as food and health, and providing safe environments to live, work, learn and play. However, despite cooling being vital to every nation’s productivity, prosperity, and economic well-being, it is typically absent from lists of important national infrastructure.”

With UK summer temperatures recently exceeding 40°C and several locations around the world experiencing heatwaves with temperatures above 50°C, adaptation to extreme heat is becoming increasingly vital. One significant problem highlighted by the report is that global cooling already accounts for over seven per cent of all GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.

By 2030, cooling emissions are expected to double, with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in refrigeration being one of the fastest growing sources of emissions. Addressing increased demand for cooling in a sustainable way will require joined-up thinking, according to the authors of the report.

“Taking a high-level, holistic, whole systems thinking approach is a prerequisite for an optimised outcome to planning, building, operating, maintaining, adapting, and decommissioning such infrastructure sustainably,” said Dr Leyla Sayin, deputy director at the Centre for Sustainable Cooling.

The report sets out five main recommendations for governments and policymakers:

  1. Recognise that cooling is a critical service and designate appropriate infrastructure to treat it as such
  2. Develop strategies for heat adaptation with sustainable cooling infrastructure at their core, including assessment of food, health, digital industrial and economic security implications
  3. A holistic, whole-systems approach to planning, building, operating, maintaining, adapting, and decommissioning cooling infrastructure
  4. Recognise that the majority of energy services required to support modern society are thermal and adopt a thermal-thinking approach to energy system policymaking
  5. Quantify the wider social impact of the cold chain and justify active investment in the development of the cooling and cold chain as a part of a country’s critical infrastructure

“A lot of work needs to be done now, on the global cold chain and cooling infrastructure to meet the myriad of challenges that living in a +50°C world presents,” said Prof Peters.

“We simply do not have the luxury of time to put this off. We need to realise that treating cooling as critical is a matter of survival.”