A Race Against Rising Temperatures: Creating a Cool and Resilient City Infrastructure

December 7th, 2023 | viewpoint


People around the world are feeling the heat of climate change, and the data show us why. We just experienced the warmest 12-month period on record, with a quarter of the global population facing persistent and dangerous heat waves driven by carbon pollution. Extreme heat has serious consequences for health, both directly and indirectly. For example, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are common during heat waves. High temperatures also increase demand for water, compounding existing scarcity and creating a shortage of drinking water. This leads to dehydration and increases water-borne diseases, particularly among children, the elderly, and people living in urban poor communities. High temperatures can also cause more frequent respiratory infections in children, and increase foodborne pathogens that cause diarrheal diseases. In addition, extreme heat is associated with increased risk of pregnancy complications such as hypertensive disorders, preterm birth, and low birth weight. The increasing intensity and frequency of heat waves also contribute to global food insecurity by reducing crop yields and income when it is too hot for people to work and crops to survive. This significantly reduces families’ ability to meet nutritional needs as income decreases and food prices increase. Recognizing the largely predictable and preventable nature of this crisis, we look to the leaders, experts, and activists who are attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference — COP 28 to take action on this critical issue.

The increasing effects of climate change are ubiquitous. Over the last year in India, for example, 1.3 billion people endured a minimum of 30 days of elevated temperatures. By the end of this century, the number of heat waves in India each year is projected to triple, and their duration will increase too. City residents, who account for more than one third of India’s population, are at higher risk because of the urban heat island effect. Temperatures in urban areas can be 4–5 degrees Celsius higher than surrounding vegetated areas. As urbanization continues to increase, city governments must develop and implement a comprehensive heat response plan and improve the resilience of infrastructure for residents. Sound urban planning includes short- and long-term measures for adapting to extreme heat and responding to the heat island effect while fulfilling the mission to protect and provide vital health and other services to people.

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