Inefficient use of air-conditioning leaves Asean freezing in the tropics

 Inefficient use of air-conditioning leaves Asean freezing in the tropics
Panelists at the Asean Cooling Summit debate how to tackle the region's looming cooling crisis. Image: Eco-Business

Bangkok, 29 January, 2018—Southeast Asia is facing a growing cooling crisis, but its people remain unaware of the threat that inefficient cooling technologies can pose to national development and the environment, finds a new whitepaper published today.

Freezing in the tropics: Asean’s air-con conundrum, commissioned by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) and produced by Eco-Business, explores the attitudes and awareness surrounding air-conditioning and its implications for sustainable development in Southeast Asia.

Cooling is key to human health and prosperity, and is increasingly important as the world experiences rapid urbanisation, economic growth and rising temperatures.

But the technology underpinning cooling poses an urgent environmental threat. Current cooling systems use potent greenhouse gases and consume large amounts of energy, usually derived from fossil fuels, therefore driving climate change. Growing demand for air conditioning alone in the world’s emerging economies will drive a 64 per cent increase in household energy use, and produce 23.1 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2040.

At the same time, the International Energy Agency estimates that improving energy efficiency could provide almost 40 per cent of the emissions reductions needed to stay within the 2-degree Celsius ceiling for staving off the worst effects of climate change.

The whitepaper finds that cooling technologies such as refrigeration and air-conditioning could account for 40 per cent of Southeast Asia’s electricity demand by 2040. This would generate significant amount of climate-change causing carbon emissions if left unchecked, particularly in Southeast Asia where coal is a major source of energy.

If Asean countries switched to energy efficient products for cooling, they can reduce electricity consumption by 100 TWH at a saving of US$12 billion annually. This is the equivalent to the annual production of 50 coal power plants.

Yet respondents in the region who took part in a survey for the whitepaper showed limited understanding of the impact of air-conditioning on the environment. Almost half of the respondents voted for “increasing the development of solar plants” as the most important way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region, rather than increasing the efficiency of air-conditioning units.  

The paper also revealed that the general public has low awareness of the refrigerants used in air-conditioners and the impact it has on the environment. Over 45 per cent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘People in my country are aware of the harm that air-conditioning refrigerants do to the environment’. (See Figure 1 in Annex)

There is also widespread sentiment among Southeast Asian citizens that buildings are sometimes cooled to excess. This was especially the case in Singapore, where 68 per cent of respondents indicating that they often work in settings that are too cold.

The paper also includes a case study on Indonesia, which has the third highest use of air-conditioning in Asia after China and India. Despite the high proliferation of air-conditioners in the country, there is   little understanding of the benefits of energy efficient and sustainable cooling  among the public, and the government also takes a relatively hands-off approach to campaigns promoting energy efficient products.

Tim Hill, Research Director for Eco-Business, who led the research behind the whitepaper, commented: “The survey found that Asean citizens are largely unaware of the hazards of increasing demands for air-conditioning, which is only set to grow in tandem with economic development. However, the comments among Asean citizens surveyed exposed common areas where governments could better legislate, such as reducing excessive cooling of public buildings and ensuring energy efficient appliances are sold in retail spaces.”

Freezing in the tropics: Asean’s air-con conundrum was based on a survey of 424 respondents from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, conducted in November and December of 2017. 

Dan Hamza-Goodacre, Executive Director, K-CEP, said: “Providing clean, efficient cooling for all is one of the 21st century’s biggest opportunities, especially in the Asean region. Society reaps huge health and productivity benefits from cooling, but few of us realise that an air-conditioning unit is like a carbon bomb. Inefficient cooling from the use of polluting fluorinated gases could result in 1 degree Celsius of global warming, and this must change. Businesses know the answer, governments need to encourage change and consumers need to wake up and make smart choices about the cooling technology they buy – and we want to accelerate change with the findings of this whitepaper.” 

The whitepaper was launched at the inaugural Asean Cooling Summit, held today in Bangkok where more than 100 business, government, civic society and academic leaders convened to discuss the urgent need for sustainable cooling in Southeast Asia. Hosted by K-CEP, the event was organised in collaboration with UN Environment and Asia’s leading sustainability media organisation Eco-Business. 

“Findings from the whitepaper reveal the urgent need to tackle the cooling issue in Southeast Asia. As temperatures rise and demand for energy soars, it’s critical that we look at how to change practices and mindsets of businesses and governments to make the industry more sustainable. This will help the region to avoid commissioning more fossil fuel power plants that are harmful to the environment and make it difficult to fulfill pledges to the Paris Agreement,” said Jessica Cheam, Managing Editor, Eco-Business.

To download a copy of the whitepaper, click here.

Media Inquiries
Hannah Koh, Correspondent, Eco-Business | +65 9049 7738




The Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) is a philanthropic collaboration launched in 2017 to support the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol and the transition to energy efficient, climate-friendly, affordable cooling solutions for all. K-CEP’s secretariat, the Efficiency Cooling Office, is located at the ClimateWorks Foundation.



Eco-Business is the leading media company serving Asia Pacific’s clean technology, smart cities, responsible business and sustainable development community. Our platforms include the award-winning site, custom publications, market research and whitepapers, multimedia production, consultancy, training and high-impact bespoke events catered to deepen discussions on sustainability. We are headquartered in Singapore, with offices in Sydney, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.




[Figure 1]


Publish your content with EB Publishing

It's about who you reach. Get your news, events, jobs and thought leadership seen by those who matter to you.

Most popular

Featured Events

Publish your event
leaf background pattern

Transforming Innovation for Sustainability Join the Ecosystem →