Cooling the Heat: The Vital Role of Urban Greening in Combating Rising Temperatures
The Cooling Effect of Urban Green Spaces:
Friends of the Earth‘s research showcases how trees and green spaces, including parks, golf courses, and tree-lined riverbanks, act as natural coolants in cities. When these green areas are clustered together, they create zones with the most significant cooling effects, providing respite from the sweltering heat. Even smaller patches of green space and street trees play a crucial role in cooling the urban environment, offering some level of relief during hot summers.
Urgent Need for Increased Tree Cover:
The pressing urgency to combat hotter summers brought on by the climate crisis is evident, especially in urban areas. However, the research highlights a concerning disparity—almost half of the neighbourhoods in English towns and cities have less than 10% tree cover and more than a third of these areas lack sufficient access to green spaces. This deficiency not only hampers the cooling potential of cities but also puts communities at risk during heatwaves.
Addressing Disparities and Health Impacts:
The impact of extreme heat is not equally distributed across urban populations. The research reveals that neighbourhoods with the least cooling are predominantly home to people of colour, comprising 65% of the population. Additionally, individuals with lower incomes are disproportionately affected by the lack of cooling options near their homes. The consequences of this disparity are further emphasized by the UK Health Agency’s recording of 2,803 excess deaths during the 2022 summer heatwave, particularly affecting vulnerable groups like the elderly, young children, and those with existing health conditions.
Strategies for Building Resilient Cities:
To create cities better equipped to handle hot summers and combat the heat-island effect, several key strategies are essential as part of a wider urban greening initiative:
- Increase Tree Cover: The government’s upcoming Urban Trees Standard should prioritize raising tree cover to at least 20%. By planting new trees and protecting existing mature ones, cities can harness the cooling, carbon-storing, and biodiversity-promoting benefits of urban greenery.
- Street-by-Street Insulation Programs: Council-led insulation programs, focusing on the most vulnerable 3,000 neighbourhoods, can keep homes cooler in summer and warmer in winter, leading to reduced energy bills and lower carbon emissions.
- Expansion of Clean Air Zones: Expanding initiatives like London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone and creating more clean air zones in other cities can tackle air pollution, which exacerbates health problems when combined with extreme heat.
As temperatures continue to rise, urban greening emerges as a beacon of hope, providing effective solutions to combat extreme heat in cities. By investing in increased tree cover, insulation programs, and clean air initiatives, alongside already recognised greening initiatives such as green roofs and living walls, we can create cooler, healthier, and more resilient urban environments for all residents. Taking these measures not only brings relief during heatwaves but also sets us on a path towards a sustainable, vibrant and healthier future for our cities across the UK and the wider world.