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Southeast Asia’s soaring demand for cooling technologies and their subsequent harmful effects on the environment are to be debated at Heriot-Watt University’s Malaysia campus, this week. 

Leading academics will discuss this growing problem in a workshop held in the University’s Putrajaya campus on Wednesday 14 March. Their findings will then be fed into the world’s first congress on Clean Cold, to be held in the UK next month. 

It is predicted that by 2040, cooling technologies such as refrigeration and air-conditioning could account for 40 per cent of Southeast Asia’s electricity demand. This would result in a significant amount of climate-change resulting from a region where coal is already a major source of energy. 

The world must not solve a social crisis by creating an environmental catastrophe; we need to work together to ensure access to affordable cooling for all with minimum environmental impact and maximum efficient use of natural and waste resources.

Professor Toby Peters

In a recent white paper by commissioned by the Kigalli Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) named, Freezing in the Tropics: Asean’s air-con conundrum, it revealed the general public has low awareness of the refrigerants used in air-conditioners and the impact these have on the environment. Nearly half of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘People in my country are aware of the harm that air-conditioning refrigerants do to the environment’. 

Professor Toby Peters of Heriot-Watt University and who is an expert in clean cooling, said: “The growth of artificial cooling is already having a major environmental impact; left unchecked it could be responsible for more than 13 per cent of total global emissions by 2030. This is an urgent crisis. We need to work together to progress how we provide sustainable affordable cooling services to all. It is not just technologies but also new business models, policy, skills, capacity building and training, which will be required.

“This workshop is the first in a series of events over the next few months to identify clean cooling initiatives, recognise progress, share best practice and work together as a global community to find answers to the big challenges of meeting cooling sustainably.”

Alongside the issue of air-conditioning, a key topic for the workshop - is food chains. The lack of adequate cold storage and refrigerated transport causes the loss of 200 million tonnes of food with consequences extending to hunger, farmer poverty and inflated food prices. 

Post-harvest food loss occupies a land area almost twice the size of Australia, consumes 250km3 of water per year, three times the volume of Lake Geneva; and emits 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2, making it the third biggest emitter after the US and China.

Professor Peters added: “The world must not solve a social crisis by creating an environmental catastrophe; we need to work together to ensure access to affordable cooling for all with minimum environmental impact and maximum efficient use of natural and waste resources.”

Heriot-Watt University is already engaged in a series of Malaysia-UK research projects looking at novel clean cooling technologies; some of which will be trialled in Malaysia later this year. Its Edinburgh campus is also home to the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, a world-leading institute looking at ways to mitigate the impact of logistics on climate change and environment.

Cool World; First International Clean Cooling Congress will be held at University of Birmingham on Wednesday 18 April and Thursday 19 April. To find out more and to register to attend please click here.