The cover story of Lounge on 26 September looked at one of the gravest crises facing India today: the spectre of extreme heat. An annual cycle of heatwaves, long periods of chronic heat, high wet bulb temperatures and deadly temperature spikes are now an unavoidable part of India’s future. As India urbanizes rapidly while the effects of climate change become more severe, one of the major challenges facing the country today is to find a way to keep people cool through the hot months. Providing adequate thermal comfort is now a health issue.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Future of Cooling report from 2018 projected that India’s air-conditioner stock could rise from 27 million units in 2016 to 1,144 million units by 2050. This is in line with the possibility that two-thirds of the world’s households might need an air-conditioner by the middle of the century. It’s patently unsustainable. Rising energy requirements to deal with increasing heat sets off a feedback loop of more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—the IEA estimated that 37% of the growth in the world’s electricity demand in 2050 would be because of space cooling. As IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientist Minal Pathak told Mint, “Because (with rising heat) air conditioning doesn’t become a luxury, but a necessity. And people are compelled to buy air conditioners and the rising cost of paying for those electricity bills is also an equity issue.”
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A new “perspective” study published in Nature Sustainability, called Cooling For Sustainable Development, highlights this link. The study states that “The unprecedented rise in cooling demand globally is a critical blind spot in sustainability debates.” It connects the demand for cooling energy to the UN’s Sustainability Goals, while noting the fact that cooling isn’t mentioned at all in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The study argues that a focus on sustainable cooling would actually help achieve each of the UN’s 17 sustainability targets, including gender equality, poverty reduction and sustainable cities and communities.
Writing in UK-based climate science and policy website Carbon Brief, Radhika Khosla, research director of the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development at the University of Oxford and one of the authors of the study, says that, “...despite the central role of cooling in climate change and sustainable development, the risks and benefits of sustainable cooling remain a global blind spot.” While drawing up a framework for understanding the relationship between cooling and sustainability, the study encourages further research and better understanding of this “blind spot”.
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