Cold chain investment in developing countries is a vital response to profound demographic change, and also to reduce food wastage, hunger and poverty. Investment is already beginning to boom, and seems likely to accelerate far beyond conventional forecasts, because of those same demographic changes. And because the new cold chains are based on highly polluting conventional technologies, the environmental and health impacts of a business-as-usual approach would be far greater than generally expected.

If this analysis is correct, the world faces a new and largely unexpected environmental threat. We suggest the frst steps to solving it should include further investigation of:

  • the likely scale of cold chain demand growth to 2050;
  • the environmental impacts of that demand growth if satisfied using conventional technologies;
  • the pros and cons of the available or potential zero-emission cooling technologies.

To start this analysis, the University of Birmingham has recently announced the creation of a new Policy Commission on cold, entitled 'Doing Cold Smarter'. The Commission will explore how best to develop 'clean cold' through new technology and infrastructure in Britain and worldwide. The Commission is chaired by Lord Teverson and will take evidence from government and experts in industry, energy and the environment, and its final report will be published in October 2015.

The Cold Commission is part of a broader and growing recognition of the importance of cold. In Britain, the University of Birmingham has secured around $20 million of government and industry funding to develop a new Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage, whose remit includes clean cold technologies: and in India, the government has set up the National Centre for Cold-chain Development to develop sustainable cold chains. As we report above, the NCCD is investigating the possibility of developing a zero-emission, low carbon cold chain based on waste cold from LNG re-gasification. We urge other countries and organisations to take a similarly innovative approach to this little recognised but increasingly urgent challenge.