Over one billion people’s health at risk from global heatwaves

16th July 2018


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Author

Kathryn Hands

More than 1.1 billion people face immediate risks to their health as they struggle to stay cool in record-breaking temperatures caused by global heatwaves this month.

That is according to a report published today by the UN-backed Sustainable Energy for All, which highlights how access to cooling is essential to escape poverty, keep children healthy, vaccines stable, food nutritious, and economies productive.

However, it estimates that 630 million people in poor urban slums have little or no protection against heatwaves, while 470 million in rural areas are without access to safe food and medicines.

There are also fears that a growing middle class of 2.3 billion people could increasingly turn to cheap and inefficient cooling devices, causing a spike in global energy demand and exacerbating global warming.

“In a world facing continuously rising temperatures, access to cooling is not a luxury, it’s essential for everyday life,” Sustainable Energy for All CEO, Rachel Kyte, said.

“It guarantees safe cold supply chains for fresh produce, safe storage of life-saving vaccines, and safe work and housing conditions. This report is a wake-up call.”

There have been multiple media reports of record-breaking temperatures across the world this month, including in eastern Canada, southern California, Australia, and the Caucasus.

The latest findings show that some of the countries facing the most significant cooling access risks are among those with the largest populations, including India, Bangladesh, Brazil and Pakistan.

The report also highlights how cooling is responsible for about 10% of global warming and growing rapidly, with future choices about refrigerants and efficiency expected to have a significant impact on achieving the Paris Agreement.

In response, it argues that greater investment in sustainable cooling solutions, and smarter policy-making, will be required to avoid major risks to vulnerable people and the global economy.

This could result in “enormous commercial and economic opportunities”, with previous research highlighting how up to 12% of work hours could be lost by 2050 due to excessive heat and lack of access to cooling.

“We must meet these needs in an energy efficient way, and without using ozone damaging substances,” Kyte said.

“If not, the risks to life, health and the planet are significant. But there are equally important business opportunities for those that face up to the challenge and act early.”

The report will be launched this week at the UN’s High-Level Political Forum, which is reviewing progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG7 – access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

Image credit: iStock

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