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UN Environment Programme

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Strategies for Cities to Stay Cool and Reduce Emissions

The recently unveiled Global Cooling Watch Report 2023 sheds light on the pivotal role of passive cooling alternatives amidst the rising demand for energy-intensive air conditioners. Compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the report underscores that the global installed capacity of cooling equipment is poised to triple by 2050, leading to a more than twofold surge in electricity consumption.
The dual impact of cooling on the climate—attributed to both indirect emissions from electricity use and direct emissions from refrigerant gases—necessitates urgent action. A failure to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 could result in nearly 1,000 cities experiencing average summer highs of 35°C, almost triple the current number. This could expose the urban population to an eightfold increase, reaching 1.6 billion by mid-century.
In response, UNEP initiated the Nature for Cool Cities Challenge in 2022 as part of the Cool Coalition—a global network with over 80 partners—aiming to expedite a worldwide shift toward efficient and climate-friendly cooling practices.
Exploring sustainable alternatives, here are five global examples:
1. Traditional Techniques in Burkina Faso:
- The Schorge Secondary School in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, showcases the fusion of traditional methods and modern materials. Constructed with locally sourced laterite bricks and eucalyptus wood, it employs natural cooling elements.
2. White Roofs in India:
- Ahmedabad, India, responded to a severe 2010 heatwave by painting 7,000 low-income households' roofs white. This straightforward measure significantly lowers indoor temperatures by reflecting sunlight, saving an estimated 1,100 lives annually.
3. Passive Cooling in the Maldives:
- Battling rising temperatures and sea levels, the Maldives focuses on passive cooling for the Maldives Meteorological Services building in Addu City. Developed with UNEP's guidelines, it utilizes shading, insulation, and orientation to combat rising temperatures without escalating electricity consumption.
4. Building Standards in Cambodia:
- Anticipating a doubling of demand for building cooling in Cambodia by 2040, UNEP collaborates with property developers to test passive cooling measures. The project aims to integrate successful strategies into national building regulations and urban planning standards.
5. Stream Revitalization in the Republic of Korea:
- The revitalization of the 11km Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul in 2005 has significantly mitigated the city's heat-island effect, showcasing the impactful role of natural solutions in reducing urban temperatures.
As the 28th session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) unfolded in Dubai, these initiatives exemplified a collective commitment to fostering a sustainable and climate-resilient future.

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  • George Kariuki

    13 w

    Moving away from energy-guzzling air conditioners towards passive cooling solutions is a paradigm shift we desperately need.

    • walter lungayi

      13 w

      It's crucial for cities to explore passive cooling alternatives to reduce emissions and stay cool, especially with the projected increase in electricity consumption from cooling equipment.

      • winnie nguru

        13 w

        UN doing the most to keep the planet breathing

        • Joseph Githinji

          13 w

          Happy to see the UNEP behind such creative initiative to enable cities across the globe keep their temperatures low and reduce carbon emmisions.

          • Rotich Kim

            13 w

            This is significant move it has a great serenity and environmental friendly

            • Patrik Lobergh

              13 w

              Painting roofs and buildings in white, is a very cost effective way of mitigating raising temperatures.

              • Princess

                13 w

                Nice to see cities doing this!

                • Kevin

                  13 w

                  These are very great strategies the UNEP is pushing for realization of urban planning that is in line with limited emissions in cities.

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