Future-proofing our cities: how we can prepare for future heatwaves
This week has seen temperatures soar to record breaking levels across many parts of Europe. Whilst the sunshine may be welcomed by some, the heatwave is a stark reminder of the impact the climate crisis is having on our lives.
Heatwaves present huge risks to human health, infrastructure and the economy and are most acutely experienced in cities as a result of the urban heat island effect. Concrete buildings constructed close together trap heat and this, combined with the extra heat generated by busy urban citizens, results in higher temperatures compared to rural areas.
Before running into an air conditioned building to keep cool, there may be another solution to help cool our cities. There is growing evidence to show that trees and green spaces can reduce the urban heat island effect, in fact urban green spaces can be up to 2 - 8°C cooler than surrounding streets (TCPA, 2018). It is less well understood however how this cooling function is impacted by the way we manage our trees and green spaces.
Earthwatch is leading a consortium of research partners to address this knowledge gap through global research on the effectiveness of urban nature-based solutions.
We are working across different climate zones, from temperate in Europe to arid in the UAE, to better understand the optimal placement and land management of trees and vegetation for maximum cooling effect. For our European research project we are looking at this in combination with other benefits that trees provide including carbon capture and storm water flood reduction. This information is vital to ensure desired benefits are achieved and return on investment is maximised.
To date, heatwave adaptation has not been high on the agenda for most city authorities and this needs to change. The 2018 IPCC report highlighted that even if global temperature rises are held below 2°C, cities could experience a significant increase in deadly heatwaves (IPCC, 2018). Planting trees and creating urban green spaces offers a sustainable and multi-benefit solution that is available for cities to implement now.
Louise Hartley, Senior Programme Manager