Prepared for another summer of record temperatures

The UN has just warned that this summer will be especially hot. The year 2023 is already among the warmest for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the same United Nations entity that warns about this summer. The arrival of El Niño in mid-2023 is behind some of the heat records suffered in recent months, but the phenomenon is coming to an end. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) points to the entry into force of La Niña in mid-July. «The forecasts once again speak of a lot of heat, but there are nuances. I think this summer is not going to be especially torrid like the previous two, because we are in transit between two phenomena. El Niño occurs very far from here, in the South Pacific, but has consequences on the entire atmospheric circulation of the planet. When we are under its influence the temperature rises 0.5 and one degree on average. La Niña years do not mean that the global temperature drops, but at least it does not rise. Now we are coming out of an intense El Niño and NOAA indicates that there will be a neutral situation until July when La Niña will arrive. In these transition periods there are usually warm temperatures, but not so intense,” explains Jorge Olcina, professor of Regional Geographic Analysis and director of the Climatology Laboratory at the University of Alicante. Despite these rises and falls in temperature caused by these two phenomena, it is worth remembering that “since 2010 the global warming process is accelerating. The summers are getting longer and the impulses of air coming from the Sahara are more common », he continues. In fact, according to WMO data, from 2014 to 2023 the average of 1850-1900 has been exceeded by 1.20 degrees C and each year has marked a new high temperature milestone.

Summers have lasted from June to September and days with “extreme thermal stress” are more frequent, something that is having consequences on health. Heat-related deaths have increased by 30% in 20 years, according to a report by the WMO and the Copernicus Climate Change Service. The same report suggests that the effect of heat on human health is more pronounced in cities, which would be linked to inequalities and the heat island phenomenon that occurs in these urban areas.

In Europe in 2023, 70,000 people died due to high temperatures and in 2022, according to ISGLobal (Barcelona Institute for Global Health), deaths amounted to 61,000 (in Spain, 11,324). “Although the risk of extreme heat decreased, the number of people at risk increased,” says Simon Lloyd, a researcher at ISGlobal specialized in climate and health. He himself points to prospective age as one of the keys to understanding the health dangers associated with heat and that “considers the years that we hypothetically have left to live, instead of the years that we have already lived, which is the chronological age.” . We assess the projected growth of the elderly population worldwide in countries grouped by income level. The greater the growth, the greater the proportion of vulnerable elderly people and the greater the climate risks. Our study suggests that, among older people, there has likely been some adaptation to rising temperatures (more knowledge about activities that can be performed at certain times of day), but by no means has society fully adapted. » says Lloyd.

Climate shelters

Europe is the continent that is warming the most. Its temperatures appear to be increasing at almost twice the speed of the global average. Over the past five years, temperatures are 2.3 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, compared to a global rise of 1.3 degrees C. If the heat increases, life expectancy and the economic situation is not very buoyant, the question is pertinent: is Spain prepared for the heat? «At the level of early warnings yes, but the cities are another thing. There is a lot to do and a different urban design is required, greening the centers, having public fountains, having more shaded areas, especially in tourist cities. There are some initiatives such as climate shelters in Barcelona or Valencia that will have to be extended, because the summers are lasting longer and longer and the hours of heat are very harsh,” says Jorge Olcina.

Climate refuges are natural or urban areas that offer more benevolent conditions, have shade spots, trees, water sources… «They must be free, public and accessible and must be distributed in the urban fabric in a reasonable way so that “Everyone has one within a reasonable distance,” says Miguel Núñez, professor at the Technical School of Architecture of the Polytechnic University of Madrid. The university has been part of the Cooltorise project, an initiative financed by Europe whose objectives have been to raise awareness about energy poverty in summer and reduce the cooling needs of families without the need for an air conditioner. In fact, it is the first specific project in Europe to adapt to summer heat and 19% of homes cannot stay cool.

The project has just concluded, putting an end to three years of work with 3,000 homes in Spain, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece. Workshops and small climate interventions have been carried out to help these families better cope with the summer heat without air conditioning. First, the culture of heat was recovered, that is, this knowledge from when there was no air conditioning that talks about how to use the fan, when it is good to ventilate the house, how to use misting or shading systems. «Other workshops focused on invoices. It studies how the electricity market works and what options are the best to contract energy. In carrying out these workshops, a gender gap was also identified because women could not attend because of the children in their care. Then play centers were organized so that children could be cared for while the mothers were in these training sessions. Then we distributed several kits among some families with nebulizers, fans, LED bulbs, and weather stripping for the windows. There was a specific kitchen kit, with pots that work at low temperatures, consume less energy and generate less residual heat,” Núñez clarifies.

The truth is that a lot can be done in homes to resist the heat. The color of the covers can help reflect the sun's rays if they are light or enhance heat absorption if they are dark. The same happens if there is no shading through awnings or blinds. Even the way you cook can become an ally or enemy of a warm home. If stoves and ovens are used for long periods of time we only increase the thermal sensation at home. The environment close to the home also affects its interior temperature. Artificial lighting from streetlights contributes to the generation of urban heat islands. In fact, during the development of the Cooltorise project, microclimatic interventions were carried out outside. “Initiatives were developed together with neighbors to condition interior patios or nearby squares by incorporating shade, installing water misting systems and incorporating vegetation,” says Núñez.

Housing and sustainability

Europe has taken on the challenge of rehabilitating its buildings because 80% of them are inefficient. “The number of actions would have to be multiplied by 10 to meet the objectives and to adapt to the temperatures,” comments Cátia Alves, director of Sustainability and Rehabilitation of the Real Estate Credit Union. This week the entity presented its Housing and Sustainability Observatory that analyzes the rehabilitation panorama. «The thermal insulation of the façade is the main intervention to be carried out, followed by changes in lighting or the installation of photovoltaics. Financing is essential and addressing this challenge taking into account the problems of social classes that cannot meet certain expenses,” says Alves. And only insulation can reduce the interior temperature by 10 degrees.