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Climate: How cities could arm themselves against heat


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Status: 07/19/2022 07:03 a.m

The heat has reached Germany – and once again one seems to be ill-prepared. There are certainly strategies: Five ideas on how cities could better arm themselves.

Hot days and tropical nights – when the temperatures during the day exceed 30 degrees and no longer fall below 20 degrees at night – then this is a problem for many people. Especially when days like this come together. When it comes to heat waves, there is a high level of certainty that they have already increased due to climate change and will continue to do so.

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Hot spells, which occurred on average once every 50 years in the pre-industrial era, are now occurring almost five times more frequently, i.e. once every ten years. If emissions of greenhouse gases continue as they have been, then by the end of the century every – or at least every second – summer in Europe could bring more than 60 hot days in a row.

This is not a dream summer, but a nightmare. Because in the years 2018 to 2020, a total of almost 20,000 people died in Germany as a result of the heat. Science calculates this number from the so-called excess mortality compared to less hot summers. Older people, small children and pregnant women are particularly affected – but also young people who have to work outdoors in this heat. So what to do?

Werner Eckert, SWR, on the extreme heat and its consequences

tagesschau24 11:00 a.m., 19.7.2022

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1. Heat Action Plan

Despite this fairly clear data situation, there is no national heat action plan. In Germany, this is a matter for the federal states and local authorities. Since 2017, the federal government has at least issued a guideline that is intended to help cities with this. However, the coalition agreement of the traffic light parties states that a national climate adaptation strategy should now be developed together with the federal states – with a clear focus on heat prevention. So far, however, only a few dozen municipalities have such plans. Analyzes from six European countries, including Spain and France, show that they definitely lead to improvements. Mortality has fallen during heat waves, at least among older people.

In order to achieve something in the short term, however, three levers would have to be set in motion, says Jörn Birkmann, head of the Institute for Regional Planning and Development Planning (IREUS) at the University of Stuttgart in a statement to the Science Media Center. “The early risk communication aimed at vulnerable people and sensitive infrastructures and the comprehensive and low-threshold warning of civil society, secondly, the identification of cool places as places of retreat and thirdly, the expansion of free drinking water in public spaces.”

2. Warning is important

The flood on the Ahr a year ago showed it clearly: If the warning had been given in good time, many people could have been saved. Public warnings on the radio, for example, are often not noticed or taken seriously. There is a certain carelessness in Germany, fed by a lack of experience and what the experts call “disaster dementia”: We forget quickly.

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Nevertheless, apps, mass media and specialist information systems should warn of heat, demanded the head of the Center for Medical Meteorological Research of the German Weather Service, Andreas Matzarakis. “My wish would be that there was a heat warning on the treadmill on TV.” Targeted warnings are even better: French municipalities, for example, have introduced a register of older, single people who are considered to be particularly at risk and then receive help from social services if the heat persists.

3. Cool-Shelters planen

Cool and cooled rooms – from libraries to churches – should be specifically signposted and outdoor pools should be kept open, demands Stefan Emeis, head of the Urban and Eco-Climatology working group at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). Flexible working hours could allow workers, where possible and feasible, to avoid the hottest hours of the day – around 3pm to 5pm. If possible, work outdoors should not be carried out in the afternoon.

4. Sufficient drinking water

Drinking fountains in cities are an important ad hoc measure. Retailers, restaurants and employers can offer free drinking water where they have not been available so far. In many German cities there are already initiatives to refill drinking water – actually intended to save on disposable bottles. A blue drop in a round signet shows where you can fill up the water bottle you brought with you. This can also be used specifically as a precaution in hot weather.

5. Plan cities for the long term

Inner cities are significantly warmer than the surrounding areas, the larger the city, the greater the difference. Sealed floors and buildings retain heat. Because there are few plants and bodies of water, there is also little cooling evaporation.

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Cities must therefore use every opportunity to change that, says Emeis. Shadows and bright colors, fresh air corridors, plants and water are the keywords. According to researchers at the Dutch University of Wageningen, the cooling capacity of a single tree can be 20 to 30 kilowatts. That corresponds to about ten air conditioners. Another work at ETH Zurich has shown that tree-covered areas in Central European cities are eight to twelve degrees cooler than built-up areas.

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