• Miami, Phoenix, Athens, and Freetown are among the first cities to appoint chief heat officers.
  • They aim to find responses to climate change and ways to cool their cities.
  • More cities are taking a proactive approach to rising global temperatures.

Cities worldwide are taking a proactive approach in response to the threat of global warming with the appointment of dedicated 'chief heat officers'.

Freetown in Sierra Leona is one of the most recent to recruit one, with the aim of finding new ways to cool the city. So with this new role on the rise, what exactly is a global heat officer and why is the position so important?

Role of a chief heat officer

A chief heat officer is hired to address rising temperatures driven by climate change. Their purpose is to raise awareness of extreme heat risks to protect the most vulnerable citizens within their city. They plan and coordinate short and long-term responses to heat waves, as well as implementing long-term risk-reduction projects.

The recent emergence of chief heat officers worldwide is part of the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center and the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance strategy to provide a billion people with climate resilience solutions by 2030.

What is the World Economic Forum doing to encourage healthy living in cities?

It can be tough to stay healthy when living in a big city. The Forum is responding through its Healthy Cities and Communities initiative by working to create innovative urban partnerships, which are helping residents find a renewed focus on their physical and mental health.

In 2020, the project continued to expand to new locations and has effectively helped communities impacted by COVID-19. Our work is continuing with concrete actions in 2021 where best practices and learnings from all partner cities will be shared, allowing other cities to replicate and scale.

In Jersey City, USA the Healthy Cities and Communities initiative is working with AeroFarms to deliver locally sourced vertically farmed greens to people in need. The initiative is also helping homeless people who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

In Mumbai, India (home to more than 20 million people) the initiative is working with the local startup community and engaging them on multiple sanitation challenges.

Learn more and find out how to join the initiative in our impact story.

Which countries currently have a chief heat officer?

United States

In April, Miami, Florida appointed Jane Gilbert, who was previously chief resilience officer. City Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the purpose of the chief heat officer was to “expand, accelerate, and coordinate our efforts to protect people from heat and save lives".

In September, Phoenix, Arizona announced that a professor of environmental science at the Arizona State University, David Hondula, would become the city’s new chief heat officer. The position is the first to be fulfilled as part of the Council Office of Heat Response and Mitigation rather than through the not-for-profit efforts of the Adrienne Arsht–Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.

Greece

In July, as fire ravaged the city of Athens, it announced that Eleni Myrivili would become its chief heat officer. Greece is the first country in Europe to appoint someone to the role. Myrivili said: “We’ve been talking about global warming for decades, but we haven’t talked much about heat."

Africa

In October, Freetown, in Sierra Leone became the first country in Africa to create the role, appointing Eugénia Kargbo. "Climate change is a global issue, just like COVID, so we need to sound the alarm and fight this collectively because sooner or later it will affect us all," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Why is the role of chief heat officer so important?

Chief heat officers have the task of finding solutions to cooling their urban environments. These can range from making it easier for policymakers to put emergency measures in place through to things such as tree-planting initiatives.

a chart showing the hottest places worldwide
Chief heat officers are being recruited due to climate change. Dasht-e Loot, Iran has the hottest recorded ground temperature on earth.
Image: Statista

North America experienced the hottest June and July on record, with temperatures soaring 2.77°F (1.54°C) above average. Worldwide, temperatures in July 2021 were recorded at the highest level in more than 140 years at 62.07°F (16.7°C).

And a recent study by the Resilience Center and Vivid Economics revealed that six times more Americans could die of extreme heat deaths by 2050 - 59,000 people.

Reducing inequalities

While the primary mission of a chief heat officer is related to climate change, the role also includes an important social component of reducing inequalities.

When Miami appointed its chief heat officer, the Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said: "We know extreme heat does not impact people equally – poorer communities and Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of the public health impacts."

Extreme heat is predominantly affecting poorer communities globally. According to a report from the UN Environment Programme, the growth of climate impact is outpacing efforts to adapt, particularly in developing countries. The report says that developing countries will need five to ten times more funding than they have currently to manage climate impacts.

Should we expect to see more chief heat officers in the future?

It is anticipated that the role of chief heat officer will be adopted by other cities soon. Kate Gallego, the Mayor of Phoenix, told Axios: "We have gotten a lot of inquiries.”

"Almost every city has a traffic safety person and an air quality person. We think there might be a day when most cities, particularly those most impacted, have a person looking at heat issues."

To further inspire more cities to take action in the face of climate change, a partnership between the World Economic Forum and the Government of Colombia created the Uplink BiodiverCities Challenge in collaboration with Salesforce. The challenge aims to accelerate the transition to nature-positive cities or 'BiodiverCities' by 2030 with 31 of the world's biggest cities already committed. In addition, the Forum has also launched The Future of Cities initiative to support cities with their strategies for economic growth and recovery post-covid.