I returned to Paris this month to meet with Noémie Fompeyrine, the city’s enterprising Head of the Resilience Office, the official charged by Mayor Anne Hidalgo with preparing a city of more than two million people for the shocks and stressors of climate change and other threats. Paris is also the place where a milestone for my profession took place — the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. I was at the historic COP21 where this monumental global agreement was made to collectively act against climate, both to reduce GHG emissions — and to adapt to climate impacts such as stronger storms, droughts and a hotter, wetter world.
Paris is certainly a leader in the effort to confront climate change and has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050; it recently released a comprehensive “urban cooling strategy” to prepare for the extreme heat that has cost lives and livelihoods in the recent past. Tragically, in 2003, 70,000 people died during a European heatwave that triggered awareness and action that contributes to cooling strategies being deployed today. Last year, France suffered a killing heat in August. In July this year, the city broke its highest temperature record with 109F. In fact, our entire planet broke its record of highest temperature.
As we head toward the United Nations 2019 Climate Action Summit, I am grateful to be leading the new era of a nonprofit resilience center, The Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (AARFRC), and a world-class team of climate, humanitarian, financial, security and science experts — all committed to our shared goal of reaching one billion people with resilience solutions by 2030. The Resilience Center exists within The Atlantic Council, an almost 60-year old foreign policy organization with immense global convening power and deep policy expertise.
Earlier this summer, our team met in Rotterdam to attend the 100 Resilient Cities Urban Resilience Summit as part of the next chapter of The Rockefeller Foundation’s global climate resilience work. This couldn’t have been a more productive gathering of leaders and representatives from cities all over the world, from Honolulu to Lagos to Paris, as well as experts and leaders from industries including infrastructure, water management, finance and technology.
We met with cities’ Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) as well, who have worked to understand their cities’ risk profiles (e.g. exposure to floods, pandemics and extreme heat) for more than a year, developing comprehensive plans for action. They have determined which challenges are their highest priorities to build more resilience in their cities and for residents.
Each meeting with a CRO revealed that they have not only been planning, but also executing projects on the ground and in the community, to build resilience. The Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center is focused on implementing projects and programs that touch people individually or at a larger scale and a core focus of this will be scaling proven solutions to address extreme heat in urban centers around the world.
Densely populated cities worldwide suffer from the “urban heat effect” trapping the warmth of a scorching day. Infrastructure radiates like a pre-baked oven, sometimes well into the night.
Cities will be home to two thirds of the global population by 2050, constituting an overwhelming majority of human beings on the planet. Much of that growth will occur in slums and settlements that lack the resources to deal with persistent heat waves. Tin roofs and other poor construction practices often lead to high levels of heat retention and transmission in these communities. Housing for the poor typically has limited ventilation or access to electricity for cooling. Furthermore, impoverished communities have reduced educational opportunities — a part of social cohesion necessary to reduce their exposure to heat.
Extreme heat is also hurting workers and economies. By 2030, the equivalent of more than two percent of total working hours worldwide is projected to be lost every year, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace. In Southern Asia and Western Africa, the resulting productivity loss may even reach five percent.
The temperatures can and likely will continue to rise but we can reach people and communities where they are — through strategic and effective partnerships — with tried and true, sometimes low-cost, sometimes technology-based, sometimes finance and risk-based efforts that collectively reduce risk associated with hazards that are intensifying with climate change, such as droughts, wildfires, coastal storm surge, and flooding.
A whole host of shovel-ready projects, interventions and collective actions exist that can reduce the threat of hotter days and extreme heat events to people and even economies. These can range from immediate response such as heat shelters and cooling stations, emergency heat response and health checks to long-term implementation of cooling pavement, urban forests and green spaces. And yes, there is even an app for some of these actions, and more — EXTREMA, an app-based emergency notification system and heat risk resource, developed in Athens for this purpose, is already being used in cities in Europe, including Paris. Unlike other disasters that are more complex to prepare for, we can and should start now to prepare for the disaster that is extreme heat.
One way to do that is working with other cities that have demonstrated focus and plans for reducing extreme heat. Big global cities like Athens, Chennai and Mexico City could combine, finance, and reduce their heat risks. We could do this through “one-stop shopping” in the form of a Risk & Finance Facility, a model for which exists in different regions of the world, including in the Caribbean, where the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk & Insurance Facility (CCRIF) helps provide affordable insurance for hurricane, flood and other risks to more than 20 countries.
Such an entity would offer financing for heat risk reduction through identified, cost effective evidence-based interventions like painting metal roofs white and planting cooling urban forests. It can also tailor risk transfer and public campaigns to build risk literacy and behavior change.
This a big idea — and an innovative one. Working with the world’s cities combined with the humanitarian, finance and risk communities — to replicate, scale and deploy interventions which we already know to be effective, can help us fight this global health crisis.
The hottest days we have felt this summer will forevermore be the new normal. For billions of people the conditions will be increasingly unlivable. And as next summer approaches, as it always does, we will have ramped up our contributions to collective global efforts to reduce heat and collaborate with the growing network of organizations taking this on.
The well-being of this generation and all those who come after us depend on the work we do today. We’re putting our shoulder to the wheel and will give it our all.