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Preparedness for extreme heatwaves in the future

Extreme heatwaves may become more frequent in the future, even in Sweden. It will involve huge challenges to local authorities and the responsibility they have to protect those who are most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly. RISE is helping municipalities increase their preparedness and reduce the effects of heatwaves.

Long periods when temperatures are above 30 C. Droughts, fires and health risks to many people in society. Those were the characteristics of summer 2018 in Sweden and throughout most of Europe. It also involved many challenges for municipalities in charge of running daycare centres, health clinics and homes for the elderly, for example.

“If more heatwaves come our way, like what we experienced during summer 2018, we’ll be in trouble. It’s particularly dangerous for children and the elderly, who are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures,” says Özüm Durgun.

“This is a problem that Sweden hasn’t really had to think about much. But, with climate change, we will probably experience and need to cope with more frequent heatwaves in the future. We need to increase awareness of the issue and municipalities must raise their level of preparedness,” says Maria Håkansson.

Both are researchers at RISE, working with a project to increase society’s preparedness for extreme heatwaves. The goal of the project is to describe the current trends and suggest methods and strategies that municipalities can use to prepare for, and employ during, heatwaves.

Schools and nursing homes most vulnerable

Focus is on the entities that are most vulnerable, such as schools, daycare centres, health clinics and retirement homes. The project is a collaborative effort between the municipalities of Lerum and Trelleborg, which will be conducting both analyses and interviews.

“This is a complex issue to manage. Many parts of the city administration need to be involved and coordinated. There are so many ways that we can adapt, too, such as creating more shade on playgrounds and changing schedules so that children play outside during cooler parts of the day. Food deliveries need to be managed safely during heatwaves as well. Furthermore, nursing homes need to be equipped for keeping the indoor climate comfortable,” says Maria Håkansson.

In order to get an overview of all the areas of a municipality that are impacted during extreme temperatures, special maps are being created using satellite data and national meteorological information. By comparing periods when we have had heatwaves to years with average temperatures, researchers can identify trends and locations that are most vulnerable.

“We’re trying to identify the hot spots, i.e. the hottest locations in the municipalities. For example, are temperatures highest at the city centre, or are they high everywhere?  We know, for example, that temperatures are impacted by the density of construction. Furthermore, blue and green help cool things down, i.e. forests, parks and water,” says  Özüm Durgun, who is in charge of analysing the maps and surveys.

In the end, all of us are affected by climate change

Experience from prior heatwaves is important

In this project, employees working in various roles within both Lerum and Trelleborg municipalities will be interviewed. It will include decisions-makers and people working with planning and administration. The aim is to identify which strategies and means of preparedness exist so that we can benefit from the experience of prior heatwaves. Both of the municipalities have been involved in the project and its development from the start, working in collaboration with researchers to discuss, analyse and share the results.

The project runs through 2021 and it is aimed at providing methods, solutions and strategies for decision support such that municipalities can be better prepared to cope with future heatwaves. Hopefully, it can also help them become more efficient and lower their costs, e.g. by lowering their dependence on resource-intensive cooling equipment. Although this study is focused on Trelleborg and Lerum, it is hoped that the knowledge gained from it can be applied on a broader spectrum.

Who will benefit from this project?

“We hope that all municipalities in Sweden can benefit. Other important target groups are the Public Health Agency of Sweden and the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. Property owners, constructions companies, the emergency services are others, as well as urban planners. Of course, all of it trickles down to individuals as well, because in the end, all of us are affected by climate change,” says Maria Håkansson.

More info about the project

Project name: Resilience strategies for coping with the effects of future heatwaves - a new method for surveying and decision support for society

Project facts: the project is led by RISE as a collaborative effort with Lerum and Trelleborg municipalities. It is financed by Formas. The project runs between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2021.

Financier: Formas

Project manager: Özüm Durgun, RISE

Published: 2020-01-21
Özüm Durgun

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