by Mathis Gilsbach
If you think about the weather in the Netherlands, what comes to mind? Probably rain, wind and rain and rather low temperatures. But occasionally people report they saw the sun for a bit and in summer there are even hot days. And these hot days are only likely to increase in the near future, due to climate change and changing weather patterns [link]. Wonderful, more days at the beach, more summer fun. Yes, likely, but also more heat stress, health issues and even death due to the effects of extreme heat.
And in Urban areas this can be felt more intensely due to the urban heat island effect [nicely explained in this video] whereby the temperature in cities can be a number of degrees higher than in the surrounding country side.
Adapting to changing weather patterns requires efforts on many levels. On the technical level, we need to develop new building materials and new solutions to reduce the heat island effect. On a planning level, cities need to be designed differently to allow for better air flows for example. But we also need measures on societal as well as a policy level.
To be able to adequately confront the challenges of rising temperatures we need more awareness in society on how to deal with these issues. In that case it can be helpful to look to other countries, which already have high temperatures. In France, severely hit by the heat wave of 2003, citizens are encouraged to think of their neighbours and help vulnerable people to cope with the heat. Furthermore, medical services keep a list with telephone numbers of elderly and other groups at risk and during hot days they check in with them to ask if they are doing well or if they need any help [French heatwave plan].
Another possibility could be service points across cities, where everybody can not only inform themselves but get cool water and if necessary medical help. During hot weather such centres could be temporarily set up in municipal buildings, but also train stations, universities and similar sites. Sometimes there can be synergy effects with other initiatives. Leiden University Green Office pushed for installing water taps across the university together with Join the Pipe. Their goal is to reduce plastic waste but it has the side effect of ensuring access to fresh drinking water for everyone all the time.
On the policy side, the national government can do their part in ensuring protection for example for workers who have to work outside such as in construction or on farms. Policy measures should pin down from which temperature upwards work has to be suspended, that employers provide adequate access to cool drinking water and sun protection and enough breaks to make the heat bearable. And to return to the technical and planning aspect, cities and the national government can contribute by supporting initiatives that strive to create more adapted cities. The Hague is taking the first steps into that direction by subsidizing house owners who are greening their roofs. Such efforts need to be stepped up and intensified to be able to adapt to rising temperatures. Another positive effect of for example bringing more green into the cities is that it does not only helps adapting to climate change but also helps mitigating it by offsetting a part of our CO² emissions.
In that sense, let us prepare society for warmer days and more sun and in the meanwhile appreciate the upsides of our windy, rainy weather.