How is global energy use broken down between cooling and heating purposes?

Cooling demand is projected to exceed heating demand by 2050. Cooling demand is driven by population growth (estimated to grow by another 1 billion people to 8.7 billion by 2030(2), urbanisation (from 55% to 68% by 2050(3)) and the emergence of a large middle class in rapidly developing countries like India and China with changing eating habits and lifestyle demands (4)

Cooling is required for our living environment, cooling our buildings and transportation, cooling data centres and the cold chain for food and medicine security.

17% of global energy consumption is linked to refrigeration with a potential to quadruple by 2050 (1) and 7% of global greenhouse gases emissions are linked to cooling with a potential of reaching 17% by 2050. 

The current way we cool is energy-intensive and creates too much pollution and so the challenge is to meet the UN goal of cooling for all with new clean technologies. 

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1) University of Birmingham, A cool world defining the energy conundrum of cooling for all, 2018; (2) United Nations, Population, available at consulted on February ‘19; (3) United Nations, 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, says UN, Available at Consulted on February 2019; (4) Financial time, More than half the world’s population is now middle class. Available at Consulted on February ’19; (5) University of Birmingham. Doing cold smarter, 2015; (6) Modelling global residential sector energy demand for heating and air conditioning in the context of climate change, Morna Isaac, Detlef P. van Vuuren (2009), Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Energy Policy, Volume 37, Issue 2,

The cold chain is vital for our health and wellbeing by facilitating the safe delivery of food and medicines. The Western World take their cool chains for granted with other 95% of food and medicines passing through the cold chain, but in the developing world, the cold chain is still immature. In China, only 20% of food passes through the cold chain and in India, it is as low as 3%. This lack of cold chain leads to 30-40% post-harvest loss of food, the equivalent of 1.4 billion tonnes of waste per annum which emits 3.6 gigatonnes of CO2eq. Both the Chinese and Indian government understand the importance of developing a cold chain in their respective countries, to provide better food security, significantly higher food yield and increased farmer income and have pledged to invest over 100 billion dollars in the next 10 years developing their cold chains. It will be vital that all new cold chains are built around clean energy and that existing cold chains are transformed from the heavy polluting industry today, especially with respect to cold transportation. 

Currently, 2 million people die every year globally due to a lack of cold chain for vaccines. (5)

Figure 1 Medical Cold Chain.png

The second major function of energy use for cooling purposes is comfort cooling for homes, offices and transportation which is increasingly required as the world heats up and as the middle class develops. Still today, air conditioning is concentrated in a small number of countries but sales are rapidly rising in emerging economies. 

Cooling is the fastest-growing use of energy in buildings; however, we must address energy efficiency as the average efficiency of air conditioners sold today is 1/3 of the best available technology. Energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050, consuming as much electricity as all of China and India today. 




New power plants will be required to meet peak electricity demands, especially in hot countries. It will be essential for the additional electricity demand to meet with clean energy sources.   


IEA, Global air conditioner stock, 1990-2050, IEA, Paris


IEA, Share of cooling in electricity system peak loads in selected countries/region, baseline and cooling scenario, IEA, Paris