Climate change is making summers hotter around the world and the rising heat wave is making building managers increasingly rely on air conditioning to keep occupants cool.

A new study from the US now reveals that the higher use of air conditioning is increasing air pollution, compromising air quality, damaging human health and even causing deaths.

Published in a special climate change edition of the PLOS Medicine journal, the findings of the study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, state that the increased consumption of energy derived from fossil fuels is polluting the air to such an extent that people are dying – caused by the trade-off between air quality and human health.

While air conditioning is saving lives during hot summer weather, the resulting air pollution from the higher use of fossil fuels to power these building cooling systems is killing people.

The situation is only going to get worse with the rising intensity of heat waves. According to the study, energy consumption is the highest in buildings; in the eastern United States, which was covered in this study, buildings account for more than 60 percent of power demand. Air pollution will continue as long as the power required to air condition buildings is generated by coal-fired power plants.

Burning fossil fuels to generate power is increasing the fine particulate matter in the air as well as ground-level ozone, putting human health at risk.

The study forecasts an additional 16,000 human deaths annually in the eastern U.S. by mid-century caused by these factors; about 1,000 of these deaths will occur due to the increased use of air conditioning powered by fossil fuel.

The study also emphasises the need to switch to renewable energy and more energy-efficient air conditioning systems to minimise air pollution and the consequent impact on human health.