As heatwaves hit Europe, cities look to nature for solutions

As seen earlier this year in India and Pakistan, the heat waves that hit so many countries are getting hotter, longer and more frequent due to climate change.

Climate experts have long warned of rising temperatures and increased risks to human health and infrastructure. The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report painted a grim picture of what unchecked global warming looks like: increasing heat waves, lengthening hot seasons and shortening cold seasons.

According to the Cool Coalition, a global effort for efficient and climate-friendly cooling organized by UNEP, extreme temperatures kill 5 million people a year, with heat-related deaths rising.

“At 1.5°C of warming, 2.3 billion people could be both exposed and vulnerable to heat waves, with negative effects on health and productivity,” said Mark Radka, head of the branch. UNEP Energy and Climate. “Without action, by 2030 an estimated 80 million full-time jobs could be lost globally due to heat stress, resulting in economic losses of US$2.3 trillion.”

Myrivili sees the challenges facing cities as two pressing priorities that must be pursued simultaneously. The short-term goal, she says, is to save lives by helping vulnerable communities stay cool during heat waves. Going forward, the long-term goal is to build resilience to climate change by sustainably cooling cities and bringing nature back to urban areas.

“Trees are the protagonists when it comes to cooling,” Myrivili said. “Creating city forests and green corridors is an effective way to move air mass to cool large areas in a city.”

UNEP data reveals that the simple act of planting trees on city streets would give 77 million people a 1°C respite on hot days.

“Redesigning urban landscapes with more vegetation and water and implementing passive cooling strategies to improve thermal performance and reduce energy consumption in buildings are key to making cities more resilient to heat waves” , said Jonathan Duwyn, Chief of the Cities Unit at UNEP.

UNEP has a long history of advocating for sustainable solutions for cooling urban areas, working with cities in India, Viet Nam and Cambodia to develop environmentally friendly cooling strategies and supporting district-level cooling systems in countries like Egypt..

The buildings and construction sector is seen as key to achieving the climate change mitigation and adaptation goals set out in the Paris Agreement by 2050.

Keeping cities at livable temperatures while dealing with the climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing governments. From cooling pavements in Tokyo to green eco-roofs in Toronto, cities around the world are experimenting with new, sustainable ways to stay cool.