Cool Solutions for a Hotter Climate: Tackling Urban Heat Island Effect with Innovation

As global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, cities worldwide are grappling with the adverse effects of the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. This phenomenon, where urban areas experience higher temperatures than their rural surroundings, has profound health and economic implications. The UHI effect disproportionately impacts low-income neighborhoods, communities lacking green spaces, and marginalized populations, contributing to increased economic costs and health risks. Between 2000 and 2019, approximately 20% of total heat-related excess deaths globally occurred in East Asia, resulting in over 101,000 fatalities. Additionally, the UHI effect reduces productivity and increases cooling expenses, further contributing to carbon emissions.

A Climate Inflection Point

To mitigate the temperature rise due to climate change, a combination of long-term carbon emission reductions and international cooperation is necessary. However, local interventions can effectively address UHI effects caused by heat absorption by urban infrastructure and heat production from vehicles and appliances. Developing sustainable solutions for UHI mitigation and adaptation is critical for cities facing these challenges.

Planning for Heat-Resilient Cities: The Case of Singapore

Singapore has been proactive in addressing urban heat, leveraging technology and innovation in policy and planning. From 1948 to 2016, the city-state’s annual mean temperatures rose by an average of 0.25°C per decade. Daily mean temperatures are projected to increase by 1.4°C to 4.6°C by the end of the century. Built-up areas in Singapore are 0-2°C hotter during the day and 2-4°C hotter at night compared to forested areas.

Singapore’s response focuses on three key strategies:

  1. Crafting Wind Corridors and Optimizing Shade
  2. Reducing Heat Absorption
  3. Curtailing Heat Emissions

These strategies are supported by measurement, modeling, and research into urban greenery, cool materials, and district cooling.

Notable Initiatives in Singapore’s UHI Strategy

Urban Greenery: The Green Plan 2030 and City in Nature vision aim to set aside an additional 1000 hectares of green space within 10 to 15 years, ensuring every residence is within a 10-minute walk to a park by 2030.

Skyrise Greening: Since 2009, the Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (LUSH) scheme has introduced over 300 hectares of greenery in new developments. Vertical greenery on building facades provides shade, reduces energy bills, and enhances pedestrian comfort. Shading buildings with vertical greenery leads to significant reductions of 10 to 31% in energy cooling load, with the cooling effect extending up to one meter from the green wall.

Innovative Materials: Pilot projects using cool paints in public housing residential estates impact nearly 80% of the population. Preliminary findings indicate that cool paint coatings can reduce ambient temperatures around buildings by up to 2°C.

Additionally, the Digital Urban Climate Twin (DUCT) initiative aims to model scenarios in areas with higher temperatures, including the introduction of new parks and open spaces.

Technical Deep Dive on Urban Heat in Singapore

To foster knowledge exchange on effective strategies, the World Bank organized a Technical Deep Dive (TDD) on Urban Heat in April 2023, in Singapore. Participants from East Asia (including China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand) and Europe and Central Asia (Poland and Uzbekistan) explored best practices and case studies from cities like Singapore, Paris, and Guangzhou.

The five-day program focused on incorporating climate adaptation and cooling solutions into planning, with a holistic approach to urban cooling solutions including nature-based solutions, financing mechanisms, and policy integration. The program emphasized the process and approach to tackling urban heat challenges and provided a platform for collaborative learning.

Impacts on Urban Heat Management

While urban cooling remains a novel subject for many participating cities, there is a consensus on the need to understand the consequences of urban heatwaves on health, urban infrastructure, and natural resources. Many cities are unprepared for a much warmer climate, making awareness of urban heat effects crucial to mobilizing financing tools for mitigation and reduction.

The deep-dive sessions highlighted common solutions, including:

  • Harnessing data to create urban heatmaps
  • Fostering coordination and integration across public-private-people sectors
  • Adapting and localizing passive and active cooling techniques
  • Incorporating these solutions into building codes, standards, and policies

By adopting these innovative solutions, cities can better prepare for the impacts of global heating, creating more heat-resilient and livable urban environments.

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