Health and wellness

Not cool: 1.1 billion people face risks from lack of cooling, but it’s not just about air conditioners

Cooling is not a luxury, say experts, with its absence posing risks that range from spoiled vaccines to the health hazard of unrefrigerated food

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, 9:07pm

New data from 52 countries in hot climates reveals that over 1.1 billion people face “significant risks” from lack of access to cooling including death, a UN envoy said Monday.

Rachel Kyte told a press conference that “millions of people die every year from lack of cooling access, whether from food losses, damaged vaccines, or severe heat impact.”

The UN envoy, who is promoting the United Nations goal of providing sustainable energy for all people by 2030, said nine countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America with the biggest populations that face major risks are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan.

Kyte stressed that “cooling for all” doesn’t mean “putting an air conditioner in every home.”

She said an urgent effort is needed to clarify cooling needs, engage governments and the private sector, and develop and test possible new solutions.

Kyte spoke on the sidelines of this week’s high-level event assessing progress on six of the 17 UN goals adopted by world leaders in 2015 to combat poverty, promote development and preserve the environment by 2030. One of the goals is universal access to sustainable energy.

Kyte, who is also CEO of the non-profit organisation Sustainable Energy for All, stressed that without ensuring access to cooling for all people, the UN goal of universal access to energy will not be achieved.

She stressed that “access to cooling is not a luxury” but “a fundamental issue of equity. And as temperatures hit record levels, this could mean the difference between life and death for some.”

While 1.1 billion people lack access to cooling, Kyte said another 2.3 billion people present “a different kind of cooling risk.”

They represent “a growing lower-middle class who can only afford to buy cheaper, less efficient air conditioners, which could spike global energy demand and have profound climate impacts,” she said.

As examples of other hurdles that must be overcome in the next 12 years, she said, 470 million people in poor rural areas don’t have access to safe food and medicines and 630 million people in hotter, poor urban slums “have little or no cooling to protect them against extreme heatwaves.”

In India, Kyte said, “nearly 20 per cent of temperature-sensitive health care products arrive damaged or degraded because of broken or insufficient cold chains, including a quarter of vaccines.”