The University of Oxford Future of Cooling Programme at the Oxford Martin School aims to understand and shape worldwide cooling solutions which place planetary stewardship and protecting people’s needs at their heart.

Cooling is critical for human wellbeing, health and the functioning of society, whether in hot climates or in regions that are traditionally unprepared for ever more frequent heatwaves due to climate change. It enables the thermal comfort of societies in warm climates and is critical for industrial production and the preservation of food and medicine. Given its importance, the demand for cooling is expected to dramatically increase 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 global warming because of the high energy requirements needed for air conditioning, which is expected to triple by 2050.

Despite the extraordinary projections for its growth, the demand for cooling does not appear in any of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or their 169 targets. In our work, published in Nature Sustainability, we explore the links between cooling and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and propose a framework to help identify solutions to deliver sustainable cooling for all. We define “sustainable cooling” as the provision of cooling in a manner that maximises its contribution to the SDGs – for example, by minimising health impacts from extreme heat, reducing greenhouse gases, avoiding food loss, and reducing societal inequalities.

Through examining peer-reviewed papers and grey literature, we identified a series of evidence-based examples of how cooling can contribute to the achievement of all 17 SDGs. Furthermore, we present a framework that supports key stakeholders from individuals to businesses and governments,  to contribute to sustainable cooling through five key levers:

  • lifestyle choices and social interactions, including behavioural choices;
  • technological innovation, such as energy-efficient air-conditioning and affordable passive cooling;
  • business models, including company value propositions;
  • governance, including regulation design and implementation;
  • and infrastructure design, which shapes and enables different solutions for cooling.

Leading up to COP26, the Future of Cooling programme was hosting a weekly series of online seminars to explore how sustainable cooling can be promoted at a system level. You can watch the recordings of the webinars online by following this link here. The webinars have engaged in conversation with academics, industry leaders and policy makers, and cover each of the themes that link to the programme’s framework on sustainable cooling: social interactions and cooling cultures; cooling technology and innovation; models for sustainable cold chains; circular cooling economy; infrastructure design for sustainable cooling; and finally, cooling for climate action. The series has produced a series of key policy recommendations and action points which have been shared with key stakeholders in the cooling sector.