Food, medicine, energy and IT security will be "impossible to provide" in many parts of the world by 2060

The British government is being urged to take the lead on developing new clean-cold technologies amid concerns that worldwide demand for cooling and refrigeration will overtake heating by 2060.

Experts from the University of Birmingham are calling on the government to establish a lead department with responsibility for clean cold.

Birmingham Policy Commission report published [launched on 28 October 2015] warns that lack of adequate cold storage already causes two million preventable deaths each year and results in the loss of 200 million tonnes of food in developing markets.

The report, entitled Doing Cold Smarter, states that if no action is taken, the worldwide increase in demand for cooling will raise greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 per year within 15 years – three times the current energy emissions of Britain.

Toby Peters, Visiting Professor of Power and Cold Economy at the University of Birmingham and lead investigator for the policy commission, said: 

'Cold is essential to modern life – yet it remains the Cinderella of the energy debate. It’s overlooked, under resourced and all too often relies on energy intensive, inefficient and polluting technology. If we are to meet the booming global demand for cold, without creating unintended environmental consequences, then we must learn to do cold smarter.

‘Britain has a unique opportunity to lead this clean cold revolution, by developing new technologies and establishing know-how, which can be exported around the world. But we must act now and the Government has a crucial role to play in turning the UK into a global shop window for our cutting-edge technology and world-class expertise.’

The report warned:

• Worldwide demand for cooling will overtake heating by 2060 by 60 per cent
• Refrigeration and air conditioning cause 10 per cent of global CO2 emissions – three times more than is attributed to aviation
• The worldwide refrigerated vehicle fleet could more than quadruple from around 4 million today to 18 million by 2025 to satisfy unmet demand in developing countries
• EU pollution costs caused by transport refrigeration expected to rise to £22 billion by 2025 
• Chinese consumers bought 50 million air conditioning units in 2010 alone

According to the report, an effective cold chain is essential for tackling problems such as food waste, water conservation and public health. It also states that communications networks could be severely affected as data centres could not operate without sufficient cooling.

The commission proposes three urgent recommendations for Government:

- Establish a lead government department and an institutional champion to push forward the development of clean cold and take ownership of the issue
- Conduct a Technology Innovation Needs Assessment (TINA) similar to the analysis of heating, which concluded that innovation could reduce UK energy system costs of £14 – 66 billion
- Develop a rigorous system-level analysis of the environmental and financial benefits of the Cold Economy
- Take-up the technology roadmap produced by the Commission to guide next steps and progress with the support from innovators to end users of cold.

Professor Martin Freer, Director of the University of Birmingham’s Energy Institute, and co-lead, said: 

‘The impact of cooling over the coming decades really has been underestimated. This is both a challenge and an opportunity. There needs to be both a rapid development of emerging technologies and a systems level approach. If we, the UK, get this right the potential for exports, growth, productivity and jobs could be enormous.’

The report was launched on Wednesday 28 October at an event at Westminster.