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Global Access to Cooling in 2020

The analysis for 2020 shows that across 54 high-impact countries 1.02 billion people among the rural and urban poor remain at high risk. A further 2.2 billion lower-middle income people pose a different kind of risk: they will soon be able to purchase the most affordable air conditioner or refrigerator, but price sensitivity and limited purchasing options mean they favour devices that are likely to be inefficient, threatening energy systems and resulting in increased GHG emissions.

Spectrum of risks in high-temperature environments

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As governments across the globe respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme heat continues to increase, threatening immediate public health and safety, as well as the long-term economic recovery from the pandemic. Intolerable levels of heat and humidity, previously forecast for mid-century, were already occurring prior to 2020, and more than doubled in their frequency between 1979 and 2017. [1]

Existing forecasts are also being challenged, and current projections are that intolerable heat will become worse without drastic action to combat climate change, including in seven South Asian countries that are home to 1.5 billion people where the number of days with extreme heat could rise from 45 days annually now to 78 days in 2050. [2]

Vaccination campaigns have stalled during the pandemic, with 13.5 million people in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) having already missed routine vaccinations by 3 April 3 2020. [3] Significantly higher rates of poverty and malnutrition are forecast through 2020. Taken together with the challenges of social and physical distancing during extreme heat, 2020 has highlighted the need to deliver sustainable cooling as a means of underpinning the recovery from the pandemic, as well as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The Chilling Prospects series tracks immediate vulnerability to a lack of access to cooling, identifying populations at risk whose lack of access threatens their immediate health and safety. It models risk on the basis of a spectrum of access to cooling that crosses human safety and comfort, food and nutrition security and agriculture, and health services for four populations: the rural poor, the urban poor, the lower-middle income, and the middle income.  

In 2020, a significant reduction in the number of the rural poor was driven by increased access to electricity in India but was partially offset by an increase in the number of urban poor, who are also at high risk from a lack of access to cooling.  

Compared to 2019, the analysis shows a decrease of approximately 22 million people who are at high risk of a lack of access to cooling, from 1.04 billion to just under 1.02 billion. The number of urban poor at high risk has grown by approximately 18 million from 681 to 699 million, while the rural population has decreased by approximately 40 million from 358 million to 318 million. The lower-middle income population has decreased, but only slightly, from 2.22 billion in 2019 to 2.20 billion in 2020. Across the 54 high-impact countries, at least 3.2 billion people still face cooling access challenges, with only minor improvements noted between 2019 and 2020.

Analysis of risk from a lack of access to cooling

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Note: figures may not sum due to rounding

Global Access to Cooling: Populations at Risk

Rural poor – approximately 318 million people  

The rural poor lack access to electricity and are likely to live in extreme poverty. Many of the rural poor are likely to engage in subsistence farming but lack access to an intact cold chain that would enable them to sell their products further afield at a higher price. There may also be a lack of medical cold chains in rural poor communities, putting lives at risk from spoiled vaccines.

The rural poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling in 2020

The number of those at high risk in poor, rural areas decreased by 40 million from 358 million in 2019 to 318 million in 2020. This decrease in numbers was driven by enhanced access to electricity, a key enabler of access to cooling, notably in India, Indonesia, and Myanmar. In Bangladesh however, the number of rural poor increased due to declining energy access rates in rural areas. In Angola, the number of rural poor at risk was also revised upward due to updated rural poverty figures. In 2020, Nigeria surpassed India as the country with the highest number of rural poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling.

The rural poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling since 2018 (millions)

Top 10 countries with rural poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling

Country 2018 2019 2020
Nigeria 63,011,491 74,561,781 67,159,666
India 129,511,367 94,960,997 63,093,075
Bangladesh 23,379,684 18,874,198 22,221,547
Uganda 16,533,010 17,164,748 17,815,549
Mozambique 17,144,712 17,400,838 17,371,746
Malawi 12,095,318 12,422,193 12,754,750
Angola 10,340,319 10,483,867 10,200,052
Niger 9,251,033 9,613,100 9,987,112
Burkina Faso 8,148,467 8,387,465 8,631,421
Pakistan 7,941,464 8,107,971 8,276,386

 

Urban poor – approximately 699 million people  

The urban poor may have some access to electricity, but the quality of their housing is likely very poor, and their income may not be sufficient to purchase or run a fan. They may own or have access to a refrigerator, but intermittent electricity supplies may mean that food often spoils and there is a high risk of poor nutrition or food poisoning.

The urban poor from a lack of access to cooling in 2020

In 2020, the number of those living in poor urban settings at highest risk grew from 681 million to 699 million, reflecting a consistent pattern of urbanization across developing Asia and Africa. In each of the top 10 countries vulnerability has increased year on year since 2018. Urban centres projected to see an increase in heat stress will see compounding risks for those who are at high risk from a lack of access to cooling if these challenges are not addressed. Many vulnerable groups including the elderly, those with pre-existing health conditions, and those living in poor quality housing are also more susceptible to COVID-19 and may have significantly more exposure to air pollution and the urban heat island effect.

The urban poor from a lack of access to cooling since 2018 (millions)

Top 10 countries with urban poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling

Country 2018 2019 2020
China 197,114,242 202,495,745 207,604,568
India 105,479,705 107,949,448 110,470,962
Nigeria 45,446,586 47,448,315 49,502,812
Brazil 39,557,260 40,001,584 40,437,818
Pakistan 33,570,951 34,471,578 35,403,897
Bangladesh 30,536,921 31,547,329 32,568,477
Indonesia 30,783,891 31,534,309 32,282,485
Philippines 18,452,101 18,804,145 19,160,424
Sudan 12,454,252 12,849,249 13,264,493
Iraq 12,112,396 12,456,714 12,784,267

 

Lower-middle income – approximately 2.2 billion people

The lower-middle income population represents an increasingly affluent lower-middle class that is on the brink of purchasing the most affordable air conditioner or refrigerator on the market. Limited purchasing choices available to this group favour cooling devices that are likely inefficient and could cause a dramatic increase in energy consumption and associated GHG emissions.

The lower-middle income population is the estimated segment of the population outside of rural and urban poverty living on less than USD 10.01 per day. There was a decrease in this segment between 2019 and 2020 of approximately 26 million people, a decline indicative of a growing global middle class and lower prices for entry-level air-conditioning and refrigeration units. In China, rapid growth in air-conditioning markets has reduced its lower-middle income populations, while in India the opposite effect is observed; income growth has led to the purchasing power necessary to purchase a household electrical cooling device, but without significant market penetration as of yet.

Top 10 countries with lower-middle income populations at risk

Country 2018 2019 2020
India 865.329.473 876.726.294 885.388.896
China 324.895.632 290.384.458 256.145.964
Indonesia 185.045.367 181.611.818 179.590.227
Pakistan 146.451.598 145.966.902 145.448.605
Bangladesh 99.125.544 102.620.623 98.252.126
Egypt 82.702.630 85.528.445 85.438.875
Philippines 56.281.385 55.932.719 56.207.120
Vietnam 53.611.241 51.797.703 49.231.996
Brazil 45.806.702 46.644.340 44.879.041
Nigeria 49.027.366 37.025.813 43.923.897

 

Middle income – approximately 1.4 billion people

The middle income segment of the population owns an air conditioner and may be able to afford a more efficient one. They might also make conscious choices not to own an air-conditioning unit or minimize its use. They may represent the established middle class where affordability may also allow them to move to better designed, more efficient housing and working environments.

The middle-income segment of the population are the people who live on between USD 10.01 and USD 20 per day. There was an increase in the middle-income population of approximately 97 million people between 2019 and 2020, likely indicative of growing purchasing power in Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean. However, it should not be assumed that an increase in the middle-income population implies an associated increase in income. It is expected that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most households will have decreased purchasing power and income, which may affect this group substantially in the future.

Populations at Risk: Regional Trends

In addition to providing an understanding of the global populations at risk, additional analysis allows for geographic comparison, in particular to highlight where those at highest risk are concentrated.

Africa

Trends in populations at risk from a lack of access to cooling across 31 high-impact countries in Africa (millions)

In Africa, 31 countries are identified as being high-impact for access to sustainable cooling. Within these countries, it is the rural poor segments of the population that face the most significant risks. Across the countries assessed, the rural poor at risk account for 48 percent of the total rural population, or 26 percent of the total population. Since 2018, the number of rural poor facing cooling access risks has grown 4 percent, from approximately 197 to 204 million people, accounting for 64 percent of the total number of rural poor globally.  

By contrast, the urban poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling in Africa account for 22 percent of the global total but they are the category with the highest rate of growth on the continent. Currently, the urban poor account for 20 percent of the total population assessed, but when looking specifically at those living in cities, the number rises to 43 percent, meaning that in Africa, almost half of urban dwellers in the high-impact countries for access to sustainable cooling are at high risk. This includes 19 countries where more than half of the urban population is at high risk. With urbanization expected to grow, we can expect a continued increase in the number of those at risk in poor urban centres unless cities adapt to the challenge. The reduction in size of the lower-middle income population of 8 percent relative to 2018 may be as indicative of exposure to poverty and risk as it is of income growth in the African countries.

Trends across 31 high-impact countries in Africa

Population at Risk Change since 2018 (%) Proportion of Population (% of total population) Proportion of Population (% of global total for vulnerable group)
Rural Poor 4% 26% 64%
Urban Poor 8% 20% 22%
Lower-Middle Income 1% 41% 15%

 

In total, approximately 359 million people in Africa are at high risk due to a lack of access to cooling. Of the African countries identified as high impact, 10 still have over 60 percent of their populations at highest risk – Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique and Togo. Overall, of the high-impact countries in Africa, 45 percent of their total populations are categorized as high risk, compared to 47 percent in 2019 and 45 percent in 2018.

Share of population at highest risk from a lack of access to cooling 2020

Asia and the Middle East

In Asia progress in terms of energy access, poverty reduction and energy security has meant that the challenges for access to cooling are growing in cities, rather than in rural areas. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of urban poor at risk from a lack of access to cooling grew by 12 million people, from 472 million to 484 million across 16 high-impact countries for access to sustainable cooling.

In Bangladesh, Cambodia and Yemen, urban risks are particularly acute, with over 50 percent of all urban residents in each country at high risk from a lack of access to cooling. For rural poor populations in high-impact countries in Asia and the Middle East, significant progress in energy access that can enable electrical cooling has reduced risk, notably in India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. This has led to a substantial decrease in the number of rural poor at risk, from 182 million in 2018 to 108 million in 2020. In Bangladesh, where rural energy access stalled in 2020, there was an increase of 3.5 million people in rural settings at high risks.

Overall, the populations at highest risk in Asia and the Middle East decreased by 19.5 million to 592.7 million in 2020, compared to 612.2 million in 2019 and 642.6 million in 2018. This represents 15.2 percent of the total population, relative to 15.8 percent in 2019 and 16.8 percent in 2018.

Trends across 16 high-impact countries in Asia and the Middle East

Population at Risk Change since 2018 (%) Proportion of Population (% of total population) Proportion of Population (% of global total for vulnerable group)
Rural Poor -40% 3% 34%
Urban Poor 5% 12% 69%
Lower-Middle Income -4% 46% 82%

 

A key issue for Asia and the Middle East is the growing middle class and increasing demand for electrical cooling, particularly as it relates to changes in the size of the lower-middle income population, categorized as those who live on less than USD 10.01 per day, but are not in poverty. One example of how this dynamic is changing is the varying trajectories of the lower-middle income population in China and India. In China, where income is growing and sales of devices such as air conditioners are increasing, the lower-middle income population is in consistent decline as people gain the ability to afford higher efficiency devices. In India, where millions are moving out of poverty, the lower-middle income population is growing, indicative of a group prepared to purchase their first cooling device. Across the remaining high-impact countries, the numbers of the lower-middle income population remained relatively stable in 2020 compared to 2019.

Diverging pathways in China and India for the lower-middle income population (millions)

Latin America and the Caribbean

In six countries considered to be high impact for access to sustainable cooling in Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of those at highest risk grew slightly to 61.6 million people in 2020, up from 61.3 million in 2019. Of those at highest risk, the vast majority are the urban poor, where the population continues to increase slightly year on year. Small, but important populations of rural poor at risk due to a lack of access to cooling are observed only in Bolivia and Peru in 2020.

Trends across 6 high-impact countries in Latin America and the Caribbean

Population at Risk Change since 2018 (%) Proportion of Population (% of total population) Proportion of Population (% of global total for vulnerable group)
Rural Poor -48% 0.4% 0.4%
Urban Poor 3% 19% 9%
Lower-Middle Income - 21% 3%

 

Of those at highest risk among the rural and urban poor, Brazil accounts for 66 percent of both populations, including 40.4 million urban poor in 2020. Brazil also accounts for 69 percent of the region’s lower-middle income population, with 44.9 million people in this category. Here, a convergence between the urban poor through growth and the lower-middle income through a decrease in their numbers is indicative of increased economic strain being placed on urban residents who live in poverty or may become exposed to it. Across four high-impact countries, Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Peru, similar, marginal increases in urban poor populations are observed with the lower-middle income populations remaining consistent.

Trends in the urban poor and lower-middle income in Brazil (millions)