The Oxford Martin Programme on

the Future of Cooling

The Challenge

Cooling is necessary for the quality of life of billions of people living in developing countries and, increasingly, for those developed countries traditionally unprepared for ever more frequent heatwaves due to climate change. The energy needed for air conditioning is likely to triple by 2050, with ten new air conditioning units projected to be sold every second for the next 30 years.

This huge demand has the potential to drive up greenhouse gas emissions and therefore further exacerbate the very problem it is designed to alleviate.

Shaping future cooling demand patterns is potentially the most significant opportunity we have to moderate the trajectory of energy demand. However, we do not yet understand where the greatest social, technical and economic innovations could be made, and therefore lack an evidence base for interventions. Similarly, the benefits of cooling for reducing rates of heat-related illness have not yet been fully researched.

This study investigates the future of cooling as a dynamic system, and examines its interlinkages across Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the developing and developed world. Our aim is to steer the system towards sustainable cooling for all, and to establish cooling as a global priority for the successful implementation of the SDGs.

We will concentrate on space cooling (from air conditioning, fans, and other, non-energy-dependent passive cooling techniques), which is the largest energy consumer amongst the cooling sectors, and examine three critical, inter-related aspects of future cooling:

  • transitioning technologies and cooling cultures and behaviours that determine energy demand
  • the implications of severe heat for morbidity and the potential to mitigate negative health effects
  • mapping unaccounted-for impacts of the global cooling production network, including refrigerant gases

Our methods include surveys and trend analysis, modelling, experiments, qualitative fieldwork and case studies in fast-growing developing countries (India and South Africa) and developed countries at risk of increased heatwaves (France and the UK).

Our research will focus explicitly on creating solutions, including policy influence on cooling energy demand and social aspects of climate mitigation, the design and implementation of alternative supply chains, enhancing the uptake of the best-in-class refrigerant gases as well as evidence-based guidelines to better handle the healthcare burden of severe heat.