India advances ground-breaking plan to keep planet and people cool

Four years after temperatures hit the high forties in India, claiming over 2000 lives, parts of the country are again baking in intense, and deadly, heat waves. Throughout April and into May, the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan have seen daily highs of 42°C.

As climate change increases, such temperatures are becoming the new normal. Combined with economic growth and urbanization, this brings a huge growth in cooling demand. The number of air conditioners in India is expected to rise from 15 million in 2011 to 240 million in 2030. Cooling is not just about protecting against extreme temperatures. A recent study from the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative puts India in the top nine countries at greatest risk from lack of access to cooling technology that also keeps food fresh, vaccines stable, and children in education.

Energy efficiency a key approach. By 2038, the plan aims to reduce cooling demand by up to 25 percent, refrigerant demand by 25–30 percent, and cooling energy requirements by up to 40 percent. It aims to double farmers’ incomes by improving the cold chain and so wasting less food. These are big goals, but experts believe India’s plan is sensible and achievable. Crucially, the plan also aligns India’s cooling growth with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This international agreement obliges nations to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—refrigerants that are thousands of times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.

Prioritizing new cooling solutions. The plan does not just look at efficiency. It prioritizes other solutions, such as passive cooling, building design, fans and coolers, new technologies and behavioral change. Among the new technologies is district cooling—the distribution of cooling energy from a central plant to multiple buildings. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is co-chair of the UN Environment-led District Energy in Cities Initiative, which is working with three pilot cities—Amaravati, Rajkot, and Thane – in India to demonstrate these technologies.

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