Access to cooling is a necessity, not a luxury

While few people give regular thought to the effect air conditioning has on their lives, most business owners now realise its importance to health and productivity. But across the world, effective cooling means much more than that.

Sustainable Energy for All, an organisation backed by the United Nations, has described cooling as “essential” to life, with lack of access putting over one billion people at risk.

Analysis of 52 vulnerable countries found an estimated 630 million people in urban areas lack the cooling to protect them from extreme heatwaves, while around 470 million people in rural areas do not have access to cooling for food and medicines.

A wake-up call

Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, described the report as a “wake-up call”.

“In a world facing continuously rising temperatures, access to cooling is not a luxury – it’s essential for everyday life,” she said. “It guarantees safe cold supply chains for fresh produce, safe storage of life-saving vaccines, and safe work and housing conditions.”

The report also describes the substantial impact heat stress can have on economic development. By 2050, more than 2% of work hours could be lost to excessive heat in some regions of the world. Over 30 years, a 2% loss per year would mean GDP growth is less than half what it could have been.

Closer to home

The problem of overheating is not limited to the vulnerable countries identified in the report. In the UK, a cross-party committee of MPs recently said the country is “woefully unprepared” for heatwaves.

NHS buildings such as hospitals and care homes must have plans to deal with severe cold weather, but there is no equivalent for extreme heat. The number of deaths attributed to heat could triple by 2040, the report said, reaching 7,000 per year.

The warning emphasises the need for effective cooling in every indoor environment, and for building owners and employers to recognise the risks as hot days become more common. No matter where you are in the world, cooling is not a luxury or even a simple utility, it is essential to everyday life.

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