Athens has appointed a heating director to protect people from the high temperatures and to try to find ways to adapt the city to the heat waves and extreme weather that hit the capital more often as a result of the climate emergency.
The appointment, made Friday by Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, is the first in Europe and believed to be only the second in the world, after Miami-Dade County in Florida appointed a director of heat to early this year.
Bakoyannis said: “Climate change for our city means more frequent and dangerous extreme temperatures for residents and tourists that are critical to our economy. Unfortunately, Athens is not unique: the heat is an emergency for the cities of Europe and the world ”.
Eleni Myrivili, the new Athens heat director, added: “We have been talking about global warming for decades, but we haven’t talked much about heat.”
Myrivili’s task will be to find ways to cool the city, beyond the obvious air conditioning in buildings, which only adds to the climate crisis by its massive use of energy around the world. Planting trees and plants and cultivating green spaces for shade and their cooling properties will be vital, as will the redesign of roads and buildings, and the examination of materials used for construction.
Athens has announced a program to increase the amount of green and shade spaces in the city. Providing “fresh routes” through areas where building density poses a particular problem will also be a priority. The city already uses a smartphone app to warn residents and tourists about the weather and provide tips for beating the heat.
This summer has been one of the hottest on record in much of Europe, with heat records falling in many areas, at the same time that floods have swept through Germany and Belgium. Around the world, China has experienced devastating floods, while heat waves have hit the northern latitudes of Canada and wildfires have raged in the US.
Heat is a particular problem for people in cities because built-up areas and concrete store heat from the sun, while energy use and transportation create their own excess heat that adds to the natural warming effect, and there is less natural cooling effect of trees, vegetation and water.
The very young and the elderly are at greatest risk of overheating, although temperatures in some places are now so extreme that even healthy young people are increasingly at risk. At least 104,000 deaths among Europe’s elderly population were caused by excessive heat in 2018.
Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, warned that cities around the world should take note. “Extreme heat is becoming the new normal in urban settings and occurs with dramatic frequency. The devastating heat waves remove any doubt that climate change affects all of our lives. There is an urgent need to strengthen actions taken in cities to address extreme heat and prevent the silent killer from causing more deaths.
Athens’ actions have been supported by the City Champions for Heat Action initiative, a program launched by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism