POST (Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology)
Cooling is a process used across many areas of society. It is important for buildings, industrial processes and the supply of food and medicines.
It is also needed for sustainable development. Yet some cooling applications contribute to climate change and the demand for cooling is rising. This POSTnote looks at UK and global demand for cooling. It highlights ways of meeting this demand that are more sustainable than conventional practices. It also outlines technology and policy options to promote these.
In the UK, 20% of homes overheat, even in mild summers, and it is estimated that 2,000 heat-related deaths occur each year. Cooling keeps building occupiers comfortable and productive. It reduces risks associated with overheating, and prevents food and vaccines from spoiling. Cooling also plays a role in each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Cooling processes often result in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These arise from the use of energy and refrigerants. Cooling already accounts for 7% of global GHG emissions.
Energy demand for cooling is rising and could match that of heating by 2060. This makes meeting climate change targets and achieving the SDGs more difficult. Sustainable cooling approaches are advocated by many stakeholders to help climate change mitigation and adaptation. They can also make cooling more affordable and accessible, support the SDGs. In some cases they can provide co-benefits to air quality, and mental and physical health.
As COP26 Co-President, the UK Government will have the opportunity to highlight the significance of cooling with global climate stakeholders. The COP26 Product Efficiency Call to Action aims to double the efficiency of four key appliances by 2030, including air conditioners and domestic refrigeration.
Key points in this briefing include:
- Cooling contributes to public health, food security and societal productivity. It is especially important in the supply of food and medical products (e.g. vaccines) that need refrigeration.
- Avoiding or reducing heating can help to meet cooling demand, for example through building design. Several technologies exist to supply cooling, for example air conditioners. The latter often result in GHG emissions from their use of energy and ‘F-gas’ refrigerants.
- There is relatively little policy in the UK specific to cooling. Most focuses on avoiding overheating, improving device efficiency and reducing F-gas use. Policy changes around building design, green infrastructure and the supply of refrigerated products can make cooling in the UK more sustainable.
- The UK is part of international efforts to reduce the use of refrigerants that are strong GHGs.
- Cooling is key to sustainable development, but access to it is unequal. Women and less affluent groups are most affected, particularly in the Global South. The UK funds sustainable cooling projects abroad through overseas aid.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
- Michael Swainson, BRE Group *
- Paul Huggins, Carbon Trust *
- Rachel Hay, Climate Change Committee
- Gemma Holmes, Climate Change Committee *
- Shane Brennan, Cold Chain Federation *
- Tom Southall, Cold Chain Federation *
- Sophie Loran, Cool Coalition
- Lily Riahi, Cool Coalition
- Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy International Climate Finance team *
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs *
- Dr Huashan Bao, Durham University
- Larissa Gross, E3G *
- Pedro Guertler, E3G *
- Dr Sindra Sharma-Khushal, E3G *
- Ross Lowrie, Environment Agency
- Holly Schofield, Environment Agency
- Sophie Geoghegan, Environment Investigation Agency *
- Fionnuala Walravens, Environment Investigation Agency *
- Chris Davidson, Ground Source Heat Pump Association
- John Findlay, Ground Source Heat Pump Association
- Dr Tim Fox, Independent Consultant *
- Dan Hamza-Goodacre, Kigali Cooling Efficiency Programme *
- Prof Judith Evans, London South Bank University *
- Prof Graeme Maidment, London South Bank University *
- Dr Ben Roberts, Loughborough University *
- Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government *
- Ian Tansley, Sure Chill
- Rhea Mukerjee, Sustain Labs Paris
- Edgar Segovia Leon, Teesside University
- Dr Jenny Crawley, University College London
- Prof Yulong Ding, University of Birmingham *
- Prof Toby Peters, University of Birmingham *
- Charlotte Brown, University of Manchester Tyndall Centre
- Prof Saffa Riffat, University of Nottingham
- Dr Radhika Khosla, University of Oxford Future of Cooling Programme *
- Dr Antonella Mazzone, University of Oxford Future of Cooling Programme *
- Dr Nicole Miranda, University of Oxford Future of Cooling Programme *
- Dr Philipp Trotter, University of Oxford Future of Cooling Programme *
- Stephen Gill, World Refrigeration Day secretariat *
- Members of the POST Board *
* denotes contributors who acted as external reviewers for the briefing
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