Unless we effectively address global climate change, the concern remains about the overshoot of global mean temperature rise by 2.7°C or beyond compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.
Again, the rebound in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission growth in 2021, following the pandemic led temporary dip by 8% in 2020, raises serious alarm.
The last several years have been some of the warmest years on record. This year, people have already experienced the glimpses of what we may call the very uncomfortable situations as a result of high temperature and heat waves in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
We can, therefore, sense the role of cooling in people's essential needs, well-being and productivity.
In a warmer world, cooling cannot be a luxury. To ensure food, medicine and essential supplies with quality, cooling has no alternative.
Nevertheless, huge food wastage in the world per annum induced by the absence of cooling facilities or due to under-capacity is very well known.
Access to cooling is irregular as cooling facilities across the value chain are often unable to handle the pressure during harvesting seasons. As a result, poor farmers bear the most of the brunt.
On the other hand, loss of food in this fashion in a world where millions of people struggle to manage square meals a day certainly calls for action. The situation may turn out to be dire with rising temperature and frequent heat waves brought about by human induced climate change.
Moreover, the amount of working hour loss in the world each year due to rising temperature is already astounding. Studies, conducted by Lancet and ILO, have quantified the point. Hence, productivity management of people as well as health and safety concerns substantiate the need for cooling.
Meeting the aforementioned cooling demand would put significant strain on the electricity supply systems across the globe. It would necessitate the front-loading efforts to enhance power generation capacity.
On the other side of the coin, more than 700 million people in the world, according to the available information, do not have access to electricity right now. However, countries tend to fortify actions to ensure universal electricity access by 2030 under the UN SDG goal 7.
Now that the living standards of people in the world are improving and the temperature continues to rise, people would increasingly lean towards enjoying 'space cooling' in the coming decades, causing a significant sales growth of air conditioners.
As the cooling systems are readily available across the world at affordable prices, millions of people are likely to buy their first-ever air conditioning system to fight the scorching heat.
This future growth trajectory seems to be quite appalling as only 10% of the population residing in countries that have average daily temperature over 25° C, reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
As different reports delineate, the number of air conditioning units under the possession of people could rise to up to 5.6 billion by 2050 from the present 2 billion. Experts fear the uncontrolled use of air conditioners.
The business-as-usual development of such cooling would contribute to the sharp rise in electricity demand. What is worse, the problem of climate change would be further challenging to address.
First, additional electricity usage would generate more GHG emissions, causing mean temperature to rise. Second, refrigerants predominantly used in conventional cooling are still emitting intensively.
Recognising the importance of cooling in relation to critical needs of the people, and expecting that 'space cooling' would increase rapidly, we shall seek solutions to contain a surge in GHG emissions to manage global warming.
Fortunately, solutions to manage cooling demand while allowing increased access are available. The air conditioning units in the markets today are more energy efficient, to say, they are 50% less energy consuming than earlier generation units.
Hence, enforcement of stringent energy efficiency standards for air conditioners could halve the business-as-usual energy demand for cooling in the future.
To reap the benefits, the governments and relevant agencies shall consider campaigns to make people aware of the benefits of procuring standard products. They shall undertake suitable strategies to enforce standards.
Alongside these, phasing-out of prevailing refrigerants and transitioning to energy efficient refrigerants are necessary. Taking into account the timeline for global net zero emission and the pace at which new cooling systems would be bought and installed in the foreseeable future, the weed-out process of harmful refrigerants shall be accelerated.
Today, we see that residential buildings, offices, malls and industries are being constructed at a breathtaking rate, contributing to the surging demand for cooling as well.
Often the concerns for sustainability parameters and other reasons drive people, entrepreneurs and businesses to design and construct green buildings. Green buildings require less cooling as they are adapted to local climate conditions, natural ventilation, and exterior shading
Many are aware of the increasing necessity of constructing such buildings but do not find enough motivation to pursue efforts to do so. Building codes that could help regulate the construction of new buildings are not either well formulated to consider different parameters such as energy efficiency, natural light.
Moreover, building codes are not properly enforced. In addition to that the right financing scheme or incentive are not in place to help spur implementation of green buildings.
However, as the warming continues, countries shall develop national action plans for cooling, linking with their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In fact, these action plans may provide the countries with the opportunities to raise mitigation ambitions that are essential to have the realistic chances to meet the temperature goal under the Paris Climate Deal. And the good thing is that some countries have already initiated the process to develop national cooling plans.
Shafiqul Alam is an engineer and environmental economist
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.