The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for robust infrastructure at all levels. Overarching public health infrastructure must consider not just healthcare facilities, but food and energy security. As the world recovers from COVID-19 and takes action to address the accelerating threat of climate change, it is critical for countries to take steps to shore up infrastructure in a way that responds to both crises– while ensuring reliable energy access for all. In almost no sector is this as important as cooling. For example, amidst the COVID pandemic, issues related to supply-chains – which provide essential items such as food and medicine to populations – have gained prominence, with challenges even more severe in developing countries where the supply chain infrastructure is often not effective and especially fragile along the cold chain. About one-third of all food produced globally for human consumption is either lost or wasted, which severely impacts farmers’ incomes, wastes precious resources, and generates greenhouse gases. In India, the government took steps to prevent this waste through its Cooling Action Plan, which emphasizes cold chain infrastructure and its benefits for food security, farmers’ income, and healthcare.
By upgrading this infrastructure with the latest, energy-efficient technologies, as well as looking at integration of renewables, the benefits of a reliable cold chain can be expanded while minimizing climate impacts. Countries must also look at a host of options to improve the sustainability of air conditioning as temperatures rise. One approach is through building energy codes, minimum energy performance standards (MEPS), and labeling. The MEPS and labeling program in India have contributed to about 43% of market average efficiency improvement for room airconditioners over the past 12 years. Additionally, a revised methodology for evaluating air conditioner performance in India has promoted better international market synergie and advancement in adoption of new energy-efficient technologies in the country. A good consumer communication strategy is also critical to increase market penetration of more efficient products. Another consideration for improving cooling efficiency is overcoming the initial price hump which makes energy-efficient equipment less competitive on the shelf as compared to conventional (less efficient, higher Global Warming Potential) technologies – although energy savings make these products more cost effective in the long term. The hump can be minimized while maximizing climate benefits by a combination of appropriate financial interventions, such as grants and/or low-cost loans for energy efficiency enhancements, bundled with incremental financing for hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) phasedown. This can also be mitigated through innovative financial models such as bulk procurement and demand aggregation to drive down prices. Under the Unnat Jyoti by Affordable Led’s for All (UJALA) Scheme, using the economy of scale, the Indian government has procured a substantial volume of LED bulbs, with the dual aim of increasing the market size and lowering the cost of energy-efficient LED lighting. Bulk procurement programs are effective mechanisms that allow penetration of next generation technologies. The role of international, multilateral agreements in achieving climate and sustainable development goals also must be acknowledged. These agreements play a crucial role in nudging national policies to combat climate and also enco-urage sub-national and non-state actors to act. This was evident at the 2019 UN Climate Summit, where major businesses and industries pledged to reduce emissions. Several Indian industry front-runners were also part of the ‘Industry Transition Track’ led jointly by the Government of India and Sweden. Multilateral agreements can play a crucial role in building new alliances and coalitions as highlighted by the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. Agreements must also start thinking beyond shortand medium-term targets, and plan for a long-term strategy that ensures coordination across developmental policy and climate action and considers compounding risks. Finally, there are two key aspects that countries should consider to address sustainable and accessible cooling in a post-COVID world. First, as in India, countries should prepare national Cooling Action Plans: It is the need of the hour to have an integrated, long-term vision toward cooling encompassing refrigerant transition, reducing demand, energy efficiency, and advancing technology options. Secondly, countries and organizations should join coalitions to catalyze technology development. There is potential to build on existing networks (Clean Energy Ministerial, Industry Transition Leadership Group, Mission Innovation)
– especially on cooling. Enhanced collaboration enables pooling together experiences and expertise to enhance the effectiveness of policy coordination and impact. The TERI-led SHEETAL – Alliance for Sustainable Habitat, Energy Efficiency and Thermal Comfort for All is one such initiative to enhance collaboration with civil society to maximize the impact of research. There is a need for more such collaborations. Economies are at the tipping point for global cooling demand, and any delay in action would bring disastrous consequences for emissions. Integrated national actions and global collaborative efforts are a path forward for cooling the post-COVID-19 world affordably, efficiently, and sustainably .
By Karan Mangotra,
Associate Director, TERI & Manjeet Singh, Associate Fellow, TERI