Cooling access and energy requirements for adaptation to heat stress in megacities

Narasimha Rao and 4 other contributors

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    As urban areas are increasingly exposed to high temperatures, lack of access to residential thermal comfort is a challenge with dramatic consequences for human health and well-being. Air-conditioning (AC) can provide relief against heat stress, but a massive AC uptake could entail stark energy demand growth and mitigation challenges. Slums pose additional risks due to poor building quality, failing to provide adequate shelter from severe climatic conditions. Thus, it is unclear how many people in the Global South will still lack access to basic cooling under different future climate and socioeconomic developments. We assess the impact of different shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) and climate futures on the extent of population lacking access to cooling where needed—the cooling gap—and energy requirements for basic comfort for a set of 22 megacities in the Global South. We find that different SSPs greatly influence the extent of future cooling gaps, generally larger in SSP3 due low income levels, and consequent limited access to AC and durable housing. Megacities in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the largest share of population affected, ranging from 33% (SSP1) to 86% (SSP3) by mid-century. Energy requirements to provide basic cooling for all are higher in SSP1 for most megacities, driven by urbanization, and can increase by 7 to 23% moving from 2.0 to 3.0 °C temperature rise levels. Strategies combining improved building design and efficient cooling systems can improve adaptation to heat stress in cities while reducing energy and emission requirements to reach climate and sustainability goals.