As global temperatures warm and populations and incomes rise, the demand for cooling will soar, creating a positive feedback loop between global warming and electricity-related carbon dioxide (CO2
) emissions. This study explores the relationship between temperature, electricity, air conditioning (AC) and CO2
emissions, and the sustainability of cooling in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. With the highest share of AC in household electricity consumption in the world and its already very hot summers warming by 3 °C in many areas over the last 40 years, Saudi Arabia provides an important case study of how the cooling challenge can be managed. Data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF ERA5) is used to illustrate local warming trends (1979–2018) and show the relationship between temperature and power generation within a typical year using hourly data (2011–2015). Using annual data (2010–2018), we then show that since 2016 the rapid growth in the Kingdom’s electricity demand for AC and its associated CO2
emissions have plateaued. This suggests energy efficiency measures, higher electricity prices and a shift from the use of oil towards gas in the power sector are having a positive effect on energy sustainability. We identify key policies and technologies that will be important for the sustainable use of cooling in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
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