Future of cooling
The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Cooling focuses on understanding and shaping sustainable cooling solutions, prioritising passive and less energy-intensive technologies to protect people and prepare countries for extreme heat events.
For billions of people in developing countries cooling is vital for daily comfort, and as heatwaves become more frequent and intense, keeping cool is becoming increasingly important in developed countries. The energy needed for air conditioning is likely to triple by 2050, potentially driving up greenhouse gas emissions and exacerbating the problem it is designed to alleviate.
The Programme's research is led by Associate Professor Radhika Khosla from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, and Associate Professor Malcolm McCulloch of the Energy and Power Group in the Department of Engineering Science. The programme was established in October 2019 to bring together the principles, policies, and practical tools to:
- Create new and more sustainable cooling-related policies through close consultation with decision-makers and policy influencers.
- Analyse new technologies to assess how they meet rising urban energy consumption needs, especially in fast-growing emerging economies.
- Inform governments on how best to prepare for extreme heat events through prioritising passive and less energy-intensive technology, while shifting the trajectory of cooling growth towards sustainable options.
- Help to prevent the cycle of rising temperatures, unprecedented demand for energy-intensive cooling, and increased global warming.
- Promote human-based behavioural and cultural adaptive strategies.
From air conditioning, fans, and non-energy-dependent passive cooling techniques, we are examining three critical, inter-related aspects:
- Transition to technologies and cooling cultures and behaviours that limit energy demand
- The implications of severe heat for morbidity, and the potential to reduce negative health effects
- Mapping unaccounted-for impacts of the global cooling production network, including refrigerant gases
Our map-based decision tool will identify localised cooling requirements in light of increasing temperatures and heatwaves caused by climate change. We’re exploring how the demand for cooling will vary demographically and geographically in the future, and the range of locally-relevant sustainable cooling solutions for the 1.5 and 2 degrees C of warming scenarios.
We are investigating the environmental, economic and social sustainability of different options. Crucially, in addition to suggesting optimised design, we aim to extract context-specific policy recommendations on how governments can best incentivise, govern and regulate low-carbon and effective cold chains.
Non-technical solutions also play an important role in cooling, particularly in policy and research focused on thermal comfort in urban heat islands. Our work looks at non-energy intensive, behavioural cooling adaptations such as changes to sleeping and working patterns, and drinking and eating specific foods.
In our first 18 months we have...
- Published 21 peer-reviewed academic papers, press articles, and policy papers including the cover story in Nature Sustainability, March 2021, Cooling for Sustainable Development
- Co-authored the Climate Action Pathway for Net Zero Cooling which lays out a vision for action to 2050 and details the main milestones necessary to fully implement the Paris Agreement.
- Drafted a UK Parliament POSTnote, published online, to help inform policy on sustainable cooling and decarbonisation across both UK Houses of Parliament.
- Contributed to the Cool Coalition Working group’s Sustainable Cooling for Cities Handbook.
Education & engagement
Leading academics in the Future of Cooling programme play a vital teaching role on the Smith School’s MSc in Sustainability, Enterprise and the Environment, helping to train the next generation of thought leaders in the transition to net-zero.
Associate Professors Khosla and McCulloch both sit on the examinations board of the MSc inEnergy Systems (Department of Engineering Science).
We are developing several executive education initiatives on climate action, working with corporations and business leaders to encourage responsible decision-making, and to shape the market now and in the future, focused on the areas that can deliver a sustainable future.
Autumn 2021 webinar series
- 13 September 2021: Jim Maguire and Richard Matsui talk: Finance, insurance and sustainable cooling
- 20 September 2021: Janet Stephenson & Russell Hitchings talk: Social Interactions and Cooling Cultures
- 27 September 2021: Iain Campbell & Diana Ürge-Vorsatz talk: Cooling Technology and Innovation
- 04 October 2021: Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu & Toby Peters talk: Models for Sustainable Cold Chains
- 11 October 2021: Martin Dieryckx & Dave Mackerness talk: Circular Cooling Economy
- 18 October 2021: Amory Lovins & Madeleine Edl talk: Infrastructure Design for Sustainable Cooling
- 25 October 2021: Tracey Crowe & Kate Hughes talk: Cooling for Climate Action
Dr Radhika Khosla leads the Smith School cooling team
Oxford Martin School team
- Malcolm McCulloch | Director
- Rafael Perera | Professor of Medical Statistics
- Francois Cohen | Oxford Martin Fellow
- Antonella Mazzone | Oxford Martin Fellow
- Nicole Miranda | Oxford Martin Fellow
- Gemma Watson | Project Manager
- Giovani Palafox-Alcantar | Oxford Martin Fellow
- Jesus Lizana | Marie Curie Fellow
“Fewer than half of Africans have a reliable electricity supply, and extreme heat will only exacerbate this issue,” Dr Radhika Khosla told China Dialogue. “Communities that rely on off-grid energy sources will be particularly vulnerable in the face of rising energy demands.”
"We need to start adapting to the world that lies beyond 1.5C. That means putting sustainable cooling on the agenda," - Bloomberg climate opinion editor Lara Williams explores new research co-authored by Dr Radhika Khosla, which finds Switzerland, UK and Norway will face a huge adaptation challenge if the world hits 2.0C of warming.
Switzerland, UK and Norway "dangerously unprepared" to keep people cool if global 1.5ºC target is missed
Switzerland, UK and Norway will see the world’s most dramatic relative increase in days that require cooling interventions – such as window shutters, ventilation, fans, or air conditioning – if the world overshoots 1.5 ºC of warming, according to new University of Oxford research