Urban Journalism Institute
©Ramin Khatibi



2023 has etched its name as the hottest on record, a revelation based on the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service data. The global temperature reached nearly 1.5ºC (1.48ºC) above pre-industrial levels, unleashing a wave of extreme events globally, from heatwaves and floods to droughts and wildfires. The corroborating evidence from the IPCC is alarming as there is anticipation that 2024 may shatter records again, making it the hottest year in the last 125,000 years. The primary culprit behind this unprecedented heat is undoubtedly climate change, compounded in 2023 by the lingering effects of the El Niño event.

Heatwaves in 2023 wreaked havoc across the Western United States, Southern Europe, and various Asian nations, including Bangladesh, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. The aftermath was catastrophic, ranging from wildfires in Alberta to extreme temperatures causing casualties in Canada, the US, and beyond. Still grappling with the aftermath of previous heatwaves, Europe witnessed over 61 thousand deaths in 2022, laying bare the vulnerability of nations’ adaptive capacities and prevention plans. In Asia, regional temperature records were shattered, leading to school closures, power cuts, and fuel shortages.

A newly released report from the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, titled “Heat Resilience and Sustainable Cooling” (January 2024), urgently calls for action. The report is rooted in compelling evidence that heat has far-reaching impacts on health, well-being, and economic productivity. The UK, which recorded over 4,500 heat-related deaths in 2022, faces the prospect of this number doubling annually without concerted efforts to adapt to the warming climate. The UK Health Security Agency, in July 2022, issued its first-ever Level 4 heat-health alert as temperatures soared beyond 40ºC for the first time.

The losses in the UK, measured in thousands of lives and billions of pounds annually, lead to an unequivocal conclusion: “The social and economic imperative for accelerating heat adaptation measures is clear-cut.” Recommendations are concrete, recognising local governments’ actions and their value in climate emergencies. They could serve as replicable models for other countries. Recommendations include appointing a lead minister for Heat Resilience, launching a Minister-led public information campaign on the threat of heatwaves, and expanding urban green spaces, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Another crucial recommendation is a national retrofit program focusing on insulation and ventilation in the UK’s housing stock, to be executed by local authorities with adequate long-term funding. The report’s final recommendation urges the UK Government to be among the first signatories of the Global Cooling Pledge. Experts consider this a significant step forward regarding heat resilience and sustainable cooling at the international leadership level.

Meanwhile, cities globally have taken proactive measures for years to mitigate the heat island effect and enhance citizens’ quality of life during extreme weather events. Popular strategies include planting trees, establishing parks, creating rooftop gardens, and employing cooling technologies such as reflective roofs and pavements. Cities also implement early warning systems, collaborate with communities to raise awareness, and inform citizens about adaptive measures.

The Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock) continues to champion the Chief Heat Officer position globally. In 2023, Dhaka, Bangladesh, inaugurated the first Chief Heat Officer (CHO) position, appointing Bushra Afreen to combat the challenges of extreme summer temperatures. Simultaneously, Eleni Myrivili, the former CHO of Athens, became the inaugural global Chief Heat Officer through a joint appointment by UN-Habitat and Arsht-Rock.

Cities worldwide affected by rising temperatures are exploring innovative solutions. Seville is raising awareness by naming local heatwaves akin to other meteorological phenomena. New York and Los Angeles lead with green roofs and cool pavements, showcasing the potential to reduce surface temperatures by up to 11°C. Singapore has cooled down parts of its city by planting over 7 million trees and creating more than 300 parks and gardens.

The Global Cooling Pledge, subnational governments as key implementers

As a joint initiative of the United Arab Emirates, serving as the host of COP28 and the UNEP-led “Cool Coalition,” over 60 countries have endorsed the Global Cooling Pledge. These nations are dedicated to reducing cooling-related emissions across all sectors by at least 68 per cent globally, relative to 2022 levels, by 2050. The pledge includes a commitment from subnational governments to incorporate cooling into existing strategies or action plans or to develop a Heat Action Plan by 2026. Additional commitments involve the expanding quality of green and blue spaces in urban areas and a pledge to pursue public procurement of low-global warming potential and highly efficient cooling technologies in government buildings by 2030. 

©Bernd Dittrich. Innra Hvannagil, Njardhvik, Ísland
Cofounded by the European Union This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of UCLG and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.