European Governments Slow to Act on Heat Mitigation, Putting Lives at Risk

As the summer heat intensifies, European governments are once again proving slow to implement effective strategies to combat extreme temperatures, leading to an increase in deaths. This year appears to be no exception to this concerning trend.

In Florence, one of Europe’s iconic cities, tourists sought refuge under umbrellas while waiting in line at the magnificent cathedral, desperately seeking shade. Street vendors capitalized on the sweltering conditions, selling fans and straw hats to provide some relief. Locals relied on sprays from springs to cool them down. Europe, known for its timeless architecture and way of life, is now facing the harsh reality of recurring and intensifying heat waves.

Unfortunately, European governments have failed to heed the warnings sounded nearly two decades ago. In 2003, a massive heat wave killed 70,000 human beings, making it the hottest year on the continent. Last wintry weather by myself, warmth waves killed 61,000 humans across Europe, according to the latest file.

This year, the threat of another calamity looms large. Southern Europe experienced heat waves as early as May, and the most recent one, named Cerberus after the mythological multiheaded dog guarding the underworld’s gates, temperatures soared above 37 degrees Celsius (99 stages Fahrenheit) in Florence, Rome, Sardinia and Sicily.

Experts warn that extra severe temperatures are predicted in the coming days, with temperatures achieving 48 stages Celsius (118 stages Fahrenheit) or higher. While governments have implemented national adaptation strategies and issued heat warnings and guidelines for residents since the scorching summer of 2003, they have consistently fallen short of meeting carbon emission targets and investing in tangible solutions to combat climate change.

Part of the challenge stems from the fact that much of the burden lies with cities that often lack the resources and flexibility necessary to implement effective greenhouse gas mitigation in urban areas of importance in history. Florence serves as a prime example of the struggle between adapting to rising temperatures and preserving the city’s centuries-old cultural heritage.

Over the past two decades, Florence has tried to adapt to climate change by renovating public housing, schools, and hospitals, and planning more parks by planting trees in the suburbs which will be increased.  However, the city, like many other historical Italian cities, has faced significant obstacles in making its city center greener and cooler.

Florence’s hottest areas, located in the city center and a northwestern neighborhood, share common characteristics: a scarcity of trees and an abundance of concrete. Mayor Dario Nardella acknowledges the progress made since the early 2000s but recognizes that more work lies ahead. The town has already planted hundreds of timber and invested about 1 billion euros (approximately $1.12 billion) to reduce congestion inside the metropolis center, along with constructing new tram lines to attach the outskirts and downtown together.

In fact, the first tramline in Florence, built in 2010, incorporated succulents between the tracks to take advantage of the cooling effect of natural, permeable surfaces. Mayor Nardella presented plans to replace asphalt with pietra serena stones and line the streets with orange trees in a downtown street renovation project. However, making changes in the historical center poses unique challenges due to national laws protecting cultural heritage and the preservation of the city’s identity and history.

Mitigating heat in European cities requires substantial changes across various sectors, such as building, transportation, health, agriculture, and productivity. Authorities must retrofit every building and home to withstand high temperatures, extend shelters and health services to marginalized communities, and tackle urban heat islands where temperatures reach extreme levels. Collaboration among different administrative levels is essential to address water shortages and flooding associated with climate change, although alignment among countries is still lacking.

Efforts to combat rising temperatures are not limited to Italy. Mediterranean countries like Greece have started considering strategies to cope with the heat, although many initiatives remain localized. Reflective pavements have been introduced in the greater Athens area, but scaling up such projects has been hampered by the repercussions of the 2008 economic crisis. Other cities, such as Paris and Copenhagen, have implemented programs to create green spaces and limit car usage, respectively.

While some traditional heat mitigation strategies, like painting roofs white or using heat-reflecting materials, may be challenging to apply in historical cities like Florence, advancements have been made in the field of cool pavements and building materials. However, adoption of those technology has been slow. The fee of carbon emissions in Europe alone is expected at $260 billion in keeping with the year, and the worldwide annual value of overheating is expected to upward thrust from $four hundred billion to $1 billion 1.Three in 2050.

Moreover, extreme heat disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, making it a matter of social justice. In 2003, approximately 90% of the victims were low-income individuals. Tragically, recent events serve as a stark reminder of this reality, as a street worker in Lodi, Italy collapsed and later died while working in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

European governments need to act swiftly and decisively to cope with the demanding situations posed by extreme heat. Robust adaptation strategies must be implemented, prioritizing the well-being of citizens, especially those most vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures. By investing in resilient infrastructure, involving all administrative levels, and encouraging sustainable practices, Europe can mitigate the devastating impact of heat waves and safeguard the lives of its people.

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