As summer scorchers rise, cities get new tools to address deadly heatwaves


Children cool themselves in front of an industrial fan during New Orleans' Jazz Fest.
Image Credit: Flickr/Robbiesaurus

As summers become longer with more intense heat, cities need to find ways to address deadly temperatures.


Last years' deadly heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, which killed over 1,000 people, is just a hint of what's to come.


Weather forecasters are already predicting that this summer will see hotter than normal temperatures across much of the country. And climate change will make heatwaves hotter and more frequent.


That's why a collection of non-profits including The Atlantic Council, the United Nation's Cool Coalition, Mission Innovation and RMI have created the Heat Action Platform -- an online tool to help cities plan for ways to beat the heat.


"Heat now threatens humans’ ability to survive in whole swaths of the globe," wrote Kathy Baumann McLeod, the SVP of the Atlantic Council and Director of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center in the policy journal Foreign Affairs. "And yet this year’s temperature spike is just the beginning: a rise in temperatures over the next 30 years is all but inevitable. According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this heating trend will continue even if countries immediately slash their carbon emissions to zero. Any reductions in emissions will merely stave off the worst effects of global heating—and it is far from assured that countries will take the steps needed to do so."

The problem is especially acute for city dwellers and the world's urban poor. Cities account for about 55% of the world's population and they're very very good at trapping heat.


That's why Baumann McLeod and her colleagues are calling for cities to address their heat issues and, if possible, create a chief heat officer.


In the U.S. Miami and Phoenix are both racing to implement policies to cool their cities down thanks to their newly appointed chief heat officers and Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.


Around the world in places as far flung as Athens, Freetown, Sierra Leone, Monterrey, Mexico, and the Metropolitan region of Santiago, Chile, chief heat officers are being installed to craft cooling plans.


As more cities create these offices, they can turn to the Heat Action Platform for a roadmap. The plan includes options to assess, plan, implement and evaluate heat resilience strategies that includes technical resources, case studies of best practices for mitigating and adapting to extreme heat, a filterable inventory of solutions applicable to local contexts, and monitoring and evaluation frameworks, according to a statement announcing its launch.

Based on the specific local need, the tools and resources can support the development of 1) an actionable heat resilience plan or similar planning/goal setting initiative; 2) an individual project or policy intervention with heat risk reduction and preparedness goals; 3) embed heat risk reduction and preparedness strategies into another plan; or 4) make the case for heat resilient investment.b

“People and economies are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts, with heat being the invisible and least unaccounted for risk,” Baughman McLeod, said in a statement. “The goal of this platform is to be a comprehensive resource for leaders to help them protect vulnerable people and their livelihoods.”

Cities need to address these issues now, because the problem is only going to get worse. Although many forecasters predict 2022 to be one of the hottest summers on record, it's likely going to be one of the coolest for the next century, researchers said.

In Phoenix, the city has rolled out a "Cool Pavement Program", which coats streets with a gray paint that reduces roadway temperatures up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit, as Axios reported. The city also wants to build "Cool Corridors" that will provide shade in areas with high pedestrian traffic.

“By mid-century, heat waves are expected to affect more than 3.5 billion people globally. Providing cooling without warming the planet, and empowering local leaders to address extreme heat, must be priorities”, said Mark Radka, Chief, Energy and Climate Branch. “The partnership embodied in this tool is a great opportunity to help cities beat the heat,” he added.


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