Climate Action

Climate change is making heatwaves more intense – here are 7 ways the world can cope

Climate change is making heatwaves more frequent and hotter.

Climate change is making heatwaves more frequent and hotter. Image: Unsplash/Lucian Dachman

Kate Whiting
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This article was first published on 6 July 2022 and most recently updated on 4 August 2023.

  • The UN Secretary-General has warned of 'global boiling' as parts of Europe have been engulfed in fire and July 2023 looks likely to be the hottest month on record.
  • Cities around the world are experimenting with cooling techniques and initiatives, including urban greening and naming heatwaves.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Commission on BiodiverCities has helped develop the Heat Action Platform to provide cities with a roadmap and tools to address extreme heat.

July 2023 is set to be the world's hottest month ever recorded, with the mean global temperature predicted to be at least 0.2°C above the previous warmest month of July 2019.

Across the globe, temperatures have been breaking records. The mercury in Sanbao township, in China's dry northwest, broke the national record when it hit 52.2°C. In the Mediterranean, firefighters have been battling wildfires from the Greek island of Rhodes to the coast of Algeria.

"The era of global boiling has arrived," UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned. "Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning."


Climate change has played an "absolutely overwhelming" role in the heatwaves, according to new research by a team of climate scientists collaborating for World Weather Attribution.

"European and North American temperatures would have been virtually impossible without the effects of climate change," said study author Izidine Pinto of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. "In China, it was around 50 times more likely to happen compared to the past."

So what can the world do to cope with these heatwaves? Here are some of the solutions we’ve covered on the World Economic Forum, as well as what we’re doing to help.

1. Urban greening

Urban greening – creating living walls, roofs and green corridors – can benefit cities in areas of high rainfall, including around the equator and in northern Europe, because the water vapour released by plants during photosynthesis has a cooling effect, according to this Conversation piece. Freetown in Sierra Leone aims to plant 1 million trees to cool the city, through its “Freetown the Tree Town” scheme.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Commission on BiodiverCities and Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock) have developed the Heat Action Platform, an online resource that provides cities around the world with a roadmap and tools to address extreme heat.

Land surface temperature map of Europe in July 2023.
July 2023 could be the hottest month ever recorded. Image: European Space Agency

2. Traditional architecture

In the Persian Gulf, a study has found traditional architecture – including narrow alleyways that maximize shadows, internal courtyards and moisture-absorbing, reflective building materials like limestone – can help to cool urban areas. Cape Town and Buenos Aires are putting in place light-coloured and other cooling roofs on public housing.

3. Appointing Chief Heat Officers

Jane Gilbert became the world’s first Chief Heat Officer in May 2021, and as global temperatures rise it’s becoming an increasingly widespread and important role.

In an interview with the Forum, she says the main priority areas to address are: urban heat island mitigation (vegetative cover, cool pavements and roofs), protecting homes (which includes building safer homes and shelters), plus public education.

Eleni Myrivili, the first Chief Heat Officer for Greek capital Athens, was also made the first-ever Global Heat Officer, working with UN-Habitat and the Arsht-Rock Resilience Centre.

4. Naming heatwaves

Myrivili has piloted categorizing heatwaves by threat level – similar to hurricane warnings. An algorithm uses weather predictions and past mortality rates to give residents an indication of how dangerous the heat could be.

In Seville, the mayor and Arsht-Rock introduced a three-level scale of categorization and are naming heatwaves in reverse alphabetical order. The new system was brought into use at the end of July 2022, with Zoe becoming the world's first named heatwave.


5. Passive cooling

A US study found strategies like shading and natural ventilation could reduce pressure on air conditioning by up to 80%. Simulations using weather data from 2021 found these techniques kept temperatures in apartments out of the ‘danger zone’, even without using aircon. It’s thought the findings could be used to establish building codes around operable windows and working shades, to protect renters.


How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

6. Cool places

Around the globe, cities are experimenting with cooling techniques, including Vienna’s network car-free ‘cool straßen’ (cool streets), where mist sprays dispense fine clouds of temperature-lowering vapour. An app, Extrema, warns of extreme heat episodes around Europe and offers a helpful list of places you can go to cool off.

In Tokyo, wind tunnels are being built to increase airflow in hot areas, while the Israeli city of Tel Aviv is installing light-coloured fabric sun shades with solar panels that power lights at night.

7. Shade standards

Countries are building shade into planning regulations, as a growing body of research shows how important it is. This deep-dive into shade from Nature says Abu Dhabi requires “continuous shade” for 80% of primary walkways and 100% shade coverage for playgrounds in parks.

Tel Aviv has Shade Planning Guidelines that recommend continuous shade on 80% of public streets, paths and walkways, and 50% shade in school playgrounds. Singapore has specific requirements for at least half of the area of public spaces and seating to be shaded at 09.00, 12.00 and 16.00 at the height of summer, according to Nature.

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Climate ActionUrban Transformation
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