Extreme heat emergency: More than a billion people facing heat risks without improved access to cooling

New report suggests investment in suppotrt of the UN Sustainable Development Goals could protect 450 million people by 2030
Rolling out cooling technologies to the 1.2 billion people most at risk from extreme heat incidents should be a global priority, according to the global Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) campaign.

In a new report, titled Chilling Prospects, SEforALL reveals the escalating threat communities are facing from extreme heatwaves and warns that the world is entering a decisive decade when sustainable cooling solutions must be deployed at pace if increasingly common heatwaves are not to have catastrophic and deadly consequences.

The report assesses 76 countries with cooling access challenges and found that, globally, 1.2 billion people do not have adequate access to cooling, threatening their ability to survive extreme heat, store nutritious food, or secure access to safe vaccines.

It forecasts levels of access to cooling through to 2030 and finds that current trends will leave more people at high risk at the end of the decade. In contrast, a development pathway that delivers universal electricity access and ends extreme poverty by 2030 would reduce the number of people at high risk from heat waves by more than 450 million.

Other recommendations made in the report include support for programmes that aim to power health facilities with off-grid renewable energy and policies to boost the efficiency of off-grid appliances, which it says could help deliver reliable and cost-effective cooling in countries with less reliable power networks.

Nature-based solutions such as tree planting to help green urban areas and increase access to shade, would also reduce the impact of extreme heat, it notes.

Launching the report, Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for SEforALL, said: “We need to rapidly shift to sustainable technologies, so access to cooling does not worsen global climate change. The good news is, many solutions already exist today to reduce risk, improve lives, and reduce emissions. And if we achieve universal electrification and end poverty by 2030, we will relieve almost 450 million people from extreme risks to their health and safety due to a lack of access to cooling. We must all commit to urgent action.”

The report highlights how schieving several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as SDG 7.1.1 to extend electrification and SDG 1.1 to end extreme poverty would spare nearly a half billion people from high risks of extreme heat by 2030, reducing the overall number of those at high risk by 36 per cent.

“Accelerating efficient and renewable-powered sustainable cooling devices and deploying passive and nature-based solutions – to reduce need for active cooling – will play a major role in decarbonising the cooling sector and achieving SDG 7 by 2030,” said Brian Dean, head of energy efficiency and cooling at SEforALL.

One project that is lauded in the report is the Friendship Hospital Shyamnagar in Bangladesh, which was named as the “best building in the world” in 2021 by the Royal Institute of British Architects thanks to its climate-conscious design. The hospital’s buildings take advantage of wind to encourage cross-ventilation and ensure shading from direct sun while maximizing access to natural light. As a result, the need for air-conditioning is limited to operating theaters and delivery rooms, reducing costs, carbon emissions, and pressure on power supplies.

The report says the Friendship Hospital underlines how passive solutions, such as the use of natural ventilation and shading, can help meet cooling needs and minimize energy demand in health centres, without the need for the roll out of more costly cooling technologies.

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