The UK, Switzerland and Norway top the list of countries heading for dramatic increases in uncomfortably hot days - if temperatures break the international 1.5ºC target, according to new research from Oxford. But, the researchers maintain, such countries are ‘dangerously unprepared’.
The researchers stress, the forecast rises are a conservative estimates of likely temperature impacts and do not include extreme events such as heatwaves. But, they warn, interventions and adaptations are essential now – to avoid spiralling and unprecedented energy demands.
According to today’s study, Central Africa will see the most extreme temperatures if the 1.5ºC barrier is broken. But the report also shows the biggest leaps in days requiring cooling will be seen in Northern Europe. At the head of the researcher’s list are the UK and Switzerland, both of which are are forecast for a rise of 30% in days when cooling is needed – potentially leading to significant growth in demand for power.
By 2050, the energy demand for cooling could be equal to all the electricity generated in 2016 by the US, EU and Japan combined
Dr Radhika Khosla
Co-author Dr Radhika Khosla, Associate Professor at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment and leader of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Cooling insists, ‘Right now, sustainable cooling barely has a mention in the UK’s net zero strategy.
‘But cooling demand can no longer be a blind spot in sustainability debates…By 2050, the energy demand for cooling could be equal to all the electricity generated in 2016 by the US, EU and Japan combined. We have to focus now on ways to keep people cool in a sustainable way.’
Sustainable cooling interventions can involve window shutters and ventilation and fans, as well as innovations such as ultra white paint and radiant cooling panels. Dr Khosla explains, ‘Without adequate interventions to promote sustainable cooling, we are likely to see a sharp increase in the use of energy guzzling systems, such as air conditioning. This could further increase emissions and lock us into a vicious cycle of burning fossil fuels to make feel cooler while making the world outside hotter.’
According to the report, eight of the 10 countries facing the greatest relative increase in uncomfortably hot days are expected to be in Northern Europe, with Canada and New Zealand completing the list. For countries with a population of over 5 million, Switzerland and the UK top the list, followed by Norway. But when the authors took countries with populations of two million and over into account, Ireland came top.
Northern European countries will require large-scale adaptation to heat resilience quicker than other countries...It’s a health and economic imperative that we prepare for more hot days
Dr Nicola Miranda
Co-lead author Dr Nicole Miranda explains, ‘Northern European countries will require large-scale adaptation to heat resilience quicker than other countries. The UK saw massive amounts of disruption in the record-breaking heatwaves of 2022. Extreme heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and even death, especially in vulnerable populations. It’s a health and economic imperative that we prepare for more hot days.’
Meanwhile, co-lead author Dr Jesus Lizana maintains preparations can make a difference, ‘If we adapt the built environment in which we live, we won’t need to increase air conditioning. But right now, in countries such as the UK, our buildings act like greenhouses - no external protection from the sun in buildings, windows locked, no natural ventilation and no ceiling fans. Our buildings are exclusively prepared for the cold seasons.’
The top ten countries that will experience the highest needs for cooling overall in a 2.0ºC scenario are all in Africa, with central Africa most affected.
This research shows that no country – from Switzerland to the Central African Republic – is safe from climate change
Dr Youba Sokona
‘These conditions will pose further stress to the continent's socio-economic development and energy networks… issues that require much additional research given the limited studies of this rising threat in the African context,’ says Dr Khosla. ‘It is also a clear indication Africa is bearing the brunt of a problem they did not create, which should further strengthen calls for climate justice and equity.’
Meanwhile, Dr Youba Sokona, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), comments, 'This research shows that no country – from Switzerland to the Central African Republic – is safe from climate change. It should remind us of the need for global solidarity and cooperation in efforts to remain below 1.5ºC warming. The extreme temperature increases predicted by this research also are evidence that cooling will soon no longer be a luxury but a necessity across Sub-Saharan Africa. Many African countries are now at an energy crossroads, and meeting increased energy demand for cooling will be a key challenge of sustainable development.'
If we adapt the built environment...we won’t need to increase air conditioning. But right now, in countries such as the UK, our buildings act like greenhouses...exclusively prepared for the cold seasons
Dr Jesus Lizana
For the analysis, the authors used the concept of ‘cooling degree days’, a method widely employed in research and weather forecasting to ascertain if cooling would be needed on a particular day to keep populations comfortable. They modelled the world in 60kmgrids every six hours to produce the temperature averages in the study, a process that makes the results some of the most reliable globally.