Cooling energy demand has increased three-fold in the Middle East (ME) over the last 30-years. This is driven by the need to maintain thermal comfort in an extremely hot climate, and supported by rising incomes, falling costs of air-conditioning and growth in the number of buildings. The definition of thermal comfort in these buildings is drawn from “international” standards, which, though empirically derived, have no basis data from this region. Hence, we ask, to what extent do indoor conditions in the ME fall within the standards recommended range of thermal comfort, and when they do, whether they are found to be comfortable by their occupants. We present the first large-scale study of thermal comfort in the ME, consisting of two approaches: (i) a meta-analysis of data from existing studies, (ii) independent field data covering four countries representing 27% of the region’s population, 31 air-conditioned buildings of different types, including “green” buildings, and 1,101 subjects. The meta-analysis demonstrates that current thermal comfort standards fail to predict thermal sensation of 94% of occupants. Our own data show that, while indoor conditions are within standards-recommended ranges 58% of the time, only 40% of occupants find these conditions acceptable. We find evidence of overcooling in summers, with 39% occupants expressing cold discomfort. Computer models suggest that this is likely to have increased annual cooling energy demand between 13%-20%, compared to non-overcooled conditions. These results suggest the necessity of localised thermal comfort standards that mitigate excess cooling energy demand, without compromising occupant thermal comfort.