Advancing Global Heat Resilience & Climate-Friendly Cooling
As the world warms, we need smart cooling solutions.
As global leaders convene this month in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt for COP 27, the United Nations climate summit, the risks of a warming planet are coming into sharper focus worldwide. The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that the past eight years are on track to be the eight warmest on record, with the global mean temperature in 2022 currently estimated at 1.15 °C (2.1 °F) above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average. All of the extra heat being pumped into Earth’s atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) is not just an environmental threat—it’s a severe public health hazard. At a COP 27 side event today, leading international voices underscored the dangers of extreme heat worldwide and offered a range of climate-friendly cooling solutions that can keep people safe without making the climate problem itself even worse.
As Planet Warms, Dangerous Heat Will Become More Common
Recent international climate change and public health analyses underscore the intensifying human health dangers of climate change-fueled heatwaves. Global estimates indicate that by 2030 and 2050, an additional 90,000 and 255,000 people, respectively, could die prematurely each year because of climate change-worsened heat waves. The impacts of rising temperatures extend far beyond health to include damage to agriculture, marine ecosystems such as coral reefs, and vital infrastructure, and worker productivity. A recent analysis estimated that heat and humidity and heat cause 677 billion hours of lost labor worth $2.1 trillion each year. The heat problem is especially risky in developing countries that are already coping with intense temperatures. According to climate and weather experts at the India Meteorological Department, the number of heatwave days across the country is increasing at a rapid pace, a pattern that is persistent across most the 103 weather stations in the country. And extreme heat in India is already deadly: in 2019, extreme heat caused nearly 47,000 premature deaths in India, a country where only about 6% of households have access to air conditioning (A/C).
Keeping Safe With Climate-Friendly Cooling
As heat exposures become even more dangerous for people worldwide, ensuring access to lifesaving cooling technology like air conditioning cannot remain not a luxury largely available only to the affluent—it must be treated as a global health necessity. A/C sales in emerging economies are booming, and by 2050 around two-thirds of the world’s households may have access. Space cooling for buildings currently dominates the total cooling energy demand in many developing countries, and buildings are expected to drive major demand for cooling in these countries in the future, driven by urbanization and rising incomes. But if fossil fuels are burned to meet the world’s skyrocketing appetite for energy to provide cooling, we could easily worsen the climate problem itself. Because these climate, heat, cooling, and health challenges are so closely intertwined, we need to strengthen implementation of cross-sector approaches that prioritize human health protection, cooling access, and climate stability.
Leading Climate, Health, and Cooling Experts Point to Solutions
Today’s COP 27 event brought together government and national actors from India and other countries to discuss ways to implement transformative solutions that address complex heat and cooling challenges in developing countries. These speakers spoke about the need to think creatively to develop and implement solutions that can bolster human resilience to extreme heat, reduce urban heat risks, and enable broader access to climate-friendly cooling solutions:
- Manish Bapna, NRDC President and CEO: "It is critical to ensure access to cooling for the growing number of people worldwide who will need it—again, not for comfort, but for survival."
- Dipa Bagai, NRDC India Country Director: "India has much to teach the world about how to adapt to the climate change impacts we cannot avoid, in equitable and sustainable ways that center public health protection."
- Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: "Every fraction of a degree of warming matters - it translates into loss of lives and livelihoods around the world. We have a huge moral imperative to do the right thing."
- Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head, Climate Change and Health Unit at World Health Organization: "We think this issue is incredibly important from a health point of view. Even with only modest warming, we're poised to multiply extreme heat stress events by a factor of twenty. That's a tsunami of risk, and these risks interact and compound one another."
- Ayman Refaie, Head of Carbon Credit Department, Ministry of Environment, Egypt: "Egypt's experience with the Montreal protocol is a success story that shows the importance of collaboration."
- Amit Prothi, Director General, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure: "Heat is not experienced universally across a city. Our intention is to build evidence on what's needed, build partnerships, and reduce the urban heat island effect over the long-term."
- Seema Paul, Program Director, Sequoia Climate Foundation: ""The projections on air conditioning-related energy projections are astounding. Philanthropies, the private sector, and public sector must work together and cooperate to meet this challenge."
- Brian Dean, Head, Energy Efficiency and Cooling, Sustainable Energy For All: "Three billion people are at high or medium risk from extreme heat due to lack of access to sustainable, affordable cooling. India is one of the most critical countries for securing access to efficient cooling technology."
New Research on Energy Savings from Cool Roofs
Building the evidence base to inform policies that can deliver climate-friendly cooling to vulnerable people remains a critical scientific priority. At the event, NRDC President and CEO Manish Bapna announced the release of new research from NRDC and academic partners in India at the Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute and the Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar on the significant energy savings achievable in India through stronger implementation of cool roofs, which reflect incoming solar radiation and can keep indoor settings cooler. A new factsheet summarizes the results of a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change—work that found that expanding low-cost cool roofs in the Indian city of Ahmedabad 5% of residential roof area to 20% by 2030 could deliver energy savings that more than offset additional cooling energy demand linked to climate warming.
Addressing the root problem of climate change and the public health emergency it is causing requires a rapid transition away from the fossil fuels that are unleashing profound suffering from intense heat and other climate-linked threats such as unprecedented wildfires, floods, infectious disease outbreaks, and coastal storms. As the world continues to warm, coordinated efforts that reduce heat risks in climate-friendly ways are an imperative for securing a safer future for us all.