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Hello and welcome to the first newsletter from the Oxford Martin School Programme on the Future of Cooling!  
The newsletter will be issued monthly covering the latest cooling news and research updates: please do subscribe to receive them! Please let me know if there is something you’d like see featured in the newsletter, or if you have other comments or suggestions.  
Helen Gavin 

The Oxford Martin School Programme on the Future of Cooling has started!

Cooling has been a blind spot in the energy and sustainable development debates, but the need for cooling and the potential adverse effects is increasingly being recognised.
 
A flagship research endeavour, the Oxford Martin School Programme on the Future of Cooling, officially started in October 2019 and will take a multi-disciplinary approach to systematically examine the implications of cooling, and the complex interconnections between the socio-economic, technological and physical climate transitions.
 
This ambitious research programme is led by Dr Radhika Khosla from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, and Professor Malcolm McCulloch of the Energy and Power Group.  Three subteams will explore critical, inter-related aspects of future cooling.  Engineers and social scientists will investigate cooling as a socio-technical system in fast-growing cities, examining technologies and societal cultures that influence energy demand.  Statisticians and healthcare scientists will study the implications of severe heat for morbidity and the potential to mitigate negative health effects at an individual but also system level.  The team will also map externalities and cooling supply chains and networks, including refrigerant gases, to understand where the greatest sustainability innovations could be made. The research team will consider the feedback loops, synergies and trade-offs between each area in terms of the physical climate, human health, and the global production network.  
The key objectives of the research programme are to identify and influence the points of intervention, and generate an evidence base for interventions towards sustainable cooling in order to foster behaviour and bring positive change to the future of cooling.

The health effects of rising heat

The World Health Organisation stress that rising global ambient temperatures affect all populations. However, some people are more vulnerable, due to physiology, socio-economic conditions, underlying health and type of work. These people include the elderly, infants and children, pregnant women, outdoor and manual workers, athletes, and the poor. Gender can play an important role in determining heat exposure.


Increasing air temperatures may cause a significant impact on population health and morbidity, causing heat-related illnesses as well as aggravating cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and diabetes, and mortality.  There are many indirect effects; heat conditions can alter human behaviour, nutrition, productivity and labour capacity, the ability to learn, transmission of diseases, air quality, agricultural yields, and impacts on critical infrastructure. The  impact depends on several factors: the timing, intensity and duration of an event, but also the level of acclimatization and adaptability of the local society. 
 
A pivotal report by The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change in 2017 states that between the years 2000 and 2016, the number of vulnerable people exposed to heatwave events increased by about 125 million, with a record 175 million more people exposed to heatwaves in 2015 alone. Due to climate change, heatwaves are becomingly increasingly common, breaking temperature records around the world.
The Lancet Countdown have devised 41 indicators on health and climate change issues against which it annually track progress.  While some progress and success can be celebrated, much more action is needed across all indicators.  It is holding a launch event for its 2019 assessment of the state of health and climate change across the globe, on 19 November 2019, in London. 



One study has provided some insights to the potential impacts of extreme temperature events on a global scale, having developed a model to forecast heatwave–mortality associations within 20 countries/regions over 2031 to 2080. They find that the largest increase is expected in tropical and subtropical countries/regions, while European countries and the US will have smaller increases.
The outputs show increases of heatwave-related excess mortality of 2000% in Colombia to 150% in Moldova, when comparing changes from 1971–2020.  Even with successful adaptation and climate change mitigation, heatwave-related excess mortality is still expected to increase significantly.

The world faces a looming “cold crunch”

In this era of climate change and global warming, the increasing use of air conditioning worldwide is expected, yet it is destructive.  The energy and chemicals needed generate more emissions, causing temperatures to increase, thus contributing to climate in a vicious feedback loop.
 Wider access to cooling is necessary in order to bring the benefits to human development, health, well-being and economic productivity to as many people as possible.  However, this will have a significant impact on energy demand, infrastructure and greenhouse gas emissions, which must be addressed.

 The energy used today by air conditioners and electric fans accounts for nearly 20% of the total electricity used in buildings around the world; by 2050 the energy required will more than triple, if left unchecked according to a new report by the IEA.  

 The report highlights the threats associated with rising, unchecked cooling demand and calls for determined policy action by world governments to allow the benefits of cooling to be shared equitable without straining energy systems or the environment.
 
Critically, the efficiency of air conditioners must be improved in order to slow down the growth in cooling-related electricity demand. This provides a great opportunity to make positive change, as huge efficiency disparities exist in the air conditioners currently available, and mandatory minimum energy performance standards are not yet fully implemented across the world. In the longer term, better building design and tougher, mandatory, building codes are needed, as well as an accelerated roll out of energy efficiency schemes for existing buildings. 

 
Other technologies can also be adopted, such as water based cooling from district cooling schemes, or using a modern equivalent of water channels integrated into buildings for radiant cooling, such as in India’s Taj Mahal.  Such schemes would save money and exponentially up to 65% less energy than air conditioning technologies.

Part of the answer lies in climate-responsive building design

To gather collective momentum and action, 17 award winning architectural practices set up the Architects Declare movement in May 2019, and 710 architect firms have since signed up to pledge a "shift in behaviour" over climate change and confront the climate and biodiversity emergencies. The members have pledged to design buildings, cities and infrastructures that have a positive impact on the environment, and which can be part of a larger self-sustaining system.
 
An example is the UK's largest Passivhaus scheme, Norwich City Council’s new and award winning council house development, Goldsmith Street.  The design follows low carbon lines: south facing to provide light filled homes, and with a mechanical heat and ventilation system that should result in heating bills of about £150 a year.

Has cold become a mark of status? 

Anecdotally, it seems that cold has become a mark of prestige: the fancier the establishment, the colder it is likely to be.  Those who can afford it use cooling infrastructure. Others who cannot must cope with such temperatures, suffer or die. Here we are focusing on people and the impact on humans, however the effect of heat on animals and natural ecosystems must be forgotten.

Rich countries are rolling out extensive cooling initiatives.  An example is Qatar, already one of the hottest places on Earth and experiencing average temperatures increases of more than 2DegC above preindustrial times.  With a sovereign wealth fund of about $320 billion, the need for cooling is considered an engineering problem by Qatar, solved by money and technology.  Without air conditioning, life would be unbearable: Qatar not only cools the interior of buildings but also outside spaces: stadiums, markets, and sidewalks.
 
Qatar will host the 2022 football world cup, and the tournament date has been shifted to December to target lower temperatures. However concerns remain, following the September 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha. Here, for example, despite a midnight start, the women’s marathon event took place in temperatures reaching 33 degC, causing half of the participants to drop out, with many requiring medical attention.
The Kigali Agreement
 
Coupled with the rise of air conditioning is the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are greenhouse gases.
The 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer has successfully reduced the global production, consumption, and emissions of ozone-depleting substances, such as chlorofluorocarbons.  They have been replaced with HFCs, particularly in the refrigeration and air conditioning sector, and while they do not affect ozone they have a high global warming potential (GWP). Reducing the amount of HFCs needed in refrigeration systems therefore is a key action for climate change mitigation.

  Recognising this, the Montreal Protocol was amended in 2016 to include HFCs among the list of controlled substances via the Kigali Agreement, which became law on 1 Jan 2019 for those 81 countries that have ratified it.  Signatories have committed to cut the production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80% over the next 30 years, which is hoped to avoid an increase in atmospheric temperature of 0.5°C by the end of the century, preventing more than 80 billion metric tons of CO2e emissions by 2050, while continuing to protect the ozone layer.  
 
Ahead of the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, called for all nations to create National Cooling Plans to deliver efficient and sustainable cooling.
 Commending the nations that have ratified the Kigali Amendment, he called for action from all saying, “Implementation of the Kigali Amendment will be front and centre for climate action. We need all countries to develop National Cooling Action Plans to deliver efficient and sustainable cooling and bring essential life preserving services like vaccines and safe food to all people…As industry redesigns appliances to replace HFCs, it is also essential to improve their energy efficiency to further reduce their impact on the climate.”
 
“Cooling is the backbone of society… except for the 1.1 billion people who don’t have access to cooling..." say the  Cool Coalition which set up in April 2019 to expand access to cooling and join up actions across the Kigali Amendment, the Montreal Protocol, the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development goals.  This global multi-stakeholder network aims to accelerate the shift to sustainable energy sources for cooling, improve the efficiency of conventional cooling, protect vulnerable populations, meet the cooling needs of both industrialized and developing countries through urban form, better building design, energy efficiency, renewables, and thermal storage as well as phasing down HFCs.

Research into cooling solutions

The UK launched the new “Ayrton Fund” in September 2019 which comprises £1 billion of overseas development assistance to support scientists to work with developing countries on climate and energy.  One target focuses on “improving the technology behind cooling systems so energy isn’t wasted [given that] residential air conditioning alone is expected to raise global temperatures by 0.5°C in the years ahead.”
 
Alas, this fund has already attracted criticism.  The Fund is not new, additional money; rather, it diverts part of the existing UK aid budget.  A number of charities have raised concern that the fund could reduce the money available to help the world's poorest.  The real test of the fund will be whether it delivers for people in poverty who, while having contributed least to this crisis, are the first and worst affected by climate change.  


 
Let's end on a positive note

Research into cooling systems with lower GWP than conventional F gases is active.  Fraunhofer ISE has developed an efficient heat pump that uses a quarter of the refrigerant of conventional systems, and also uses propane which has a GWP of 3 compared to thousands for HFCs. 

 Other research and development focuses on water-based phase-change fluids, as new cooling media for IT and data centres, that can both efficiently and effectively store and carry cold energy to, and circulate within, each data centre.  
A US and China team have discovered a new refrigeration technology they call “twistocaloric cooling” based on twisting and untwisting fibres, using materials as diverse as natural rubber, ordinary fishing line and nickel titanium wire.

 
The Green Cooling Initiative highlight the revolution underway in the Thai cooling sector as companies switch production lines to natural refrigerants.  This is in part due to the RAC NAMA Project, a pioneer climate finance project helping Thailand achieve its pledged GHG mitigation targets.  It promotes natural refrigerants for refrigerators and air conditioning units, and supports many Thai manufacturers to make the transition.  The project provides financial support, technical and engineering assistance, and creates guidance, product standards and certification for policy makers, industry and end-users. Given that Thailand is the world’s second largest exporter of air conditioners, this project the potential to have significant change, not just for Thailand but also for the world.

Thanks for reading to the end!   I hope you found it interesting and useful. 
Helen Gavin 
Copyright © 2019 Future of Cooling, All rights reserved.


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