The climate crisis in progress it also acts on the condition of poverty and creates new ones. A new study published in Nature Sustainability and conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford, the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, the CMCC Foundation (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change), the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment and of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, delves into a new dimension of poverty that is emerging in a warming world: cooling poverty. What is it about?
“Cooling poverty can be defined as systemic when it develops in contexts where organizations, families and individuals are exposed to the harmful effects of increasing heat stress, mainly due to inadequate infrastructure. Such infrastructures include physical assets (such as passive energy retrofit solutions, cold chains or personal cooling technology devices), social systems (such as support networks and social infrastructures) and intangible resources (such as knowledge, which can allow you to intuitively adapt to the combined effects of heat and humidity). Last summer alone, hundreds of millions of people on different continents suffered unbearable climatic conditions.
Very numerous temperature records have been surpassed throughout the world, and the poorest and most disadvantaged people, who have contributed the least to global warming, are those who suffer the most severe consequences of extreme heat due to their limited ability to adaptation. Understanding the needs of this large portion of the world’s population is essential to developing equitable and appropriate strategies to adapt to extreme heat and stay cool. The study therefore illustrates how to understand systemic cooling poverty with the aim of informing policies and practices to support vulnerable people.
The research identifies five fundamental dimensions that interact with each other, together defining the proposed concept of cooling poverty sistemica: Climate, Thermal comfort of infrastructures and goods, Social and thermal inequality, Health, Education and labor standards.
The first author of the study, Antonella Mazzone – researcher affiliated with the University of Oxford – underlines that “the proposed definition differs from existing concepts of energy poverty and fuel poverty. Systemic cooling poverty highlights the role of passive cooling infrastructures (using water, green and white surfaces), building materials for adequate external and internal thermal protection and social infrastructures. Its systemic scope also considers the state of available cooling supply for outdoor work, education, health and refrigeration. In this sense, space and place play a key role in this conceptualization of cooling poverty. It goes beyond energy and embraces a multidimensional and multilevel analysis of infrastructures, spaces and bodies.”
This new index can help governments timely and ethically plan much-needed cooling interventions, taking into account the related trade-offs.
“The next challenge will be to make the proposed framework for cooling fully operational in different contexts and on different scales, and this is the direction we wish to pursue in future research work,” says Giacomo Falchetta, researcher at CMCC@Ca’Foscari who contributed to the study.