“Heat in the City”: How small and medium sized cities in Europe adapt to climate change

30,000 people in Europe died during the hot summer of 2003. As temperatures are on the rise and cities grow the European Commission forecasts even more deaths between the years 2071 to 2100; that is 152,000 people every year if nothing changes. Cities are affected the most by heat waves and heat islands because the dense urban structure is saving heat. Many big cities like Berlin, London, or Vienna are already setup with a climate change adaption strategy, but many small and medium sized cities lack basic data or even awareness for that problem. A new study in Austria is about to change that.


ADAPT-UHI: Getting small and medium cities on the map

“Small cities can have the same thermal problems as big ones.” Linda See works for the International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA). The IIASA is leading the project “ADAPT-UHI”, which wants to get small and medium sized cities on the climate change adaption map. “Many small cities have a highly urbanized core with impervious buildings concentrated in this area. That means they can share the same thermal problems with bigger cities”, says See. Now, ADAPT-UHI is gathering data to provide three small and medium sized cities in Austria with similar data that bigger ones are already enjoying.


Two thermal pictures show the city of Klagenfurt in Austria by 1981-2000 and by 2071-2100. It is clearly visible that the city is expected to get hotter

“We could do a lot of different scenarios that are fun”, says See. “We could green all the roofs for example, but what we want from the cities is to tell us: ‘We are planning for the future to do this’, and then we put that sort of scenario into the model. Or: ‘We would like to see what would happen if we are adding more green spaces in the following spaces… How would that affect urban heat islands?’ So we will be working with them to ask them what are realistic future scenarios for their cities.”


Risk evaluation for every city in Austria

The cities of Mödling, Klagenfurt, and Salzburg get special treatment in this study, but the plan is that the whole of Austria will benefit from it. An “Urban Heat Risk Map” of Austria is planned to show all small and medium sized cities their level of risk concerning urban heat. Unlike with other risk maps, here scientists and urban planners concentrate not only on sealing and development, but primarily on people.

“Our goal is a risk map that addresses people”, says Alexander Storch of the Austrian Environmental Office, which is developing the map. „Studies show that people who are chronically ill, overweight, or over 65 in age are more severely affected by extreme temperatures. That is why we want to concentrate on these groups when creating the Urban Heat Risk Map.” Areas with a more vulnerable population will then be marked with a higher risk.


An individual adaption strategy for your city

Grid reference will be rather rough with about one square kilometer. It is set up to give planners a first impression as a starting point for an individual climate change adaption strategy. Maja Zuvela-Aloise from the Austrian meteorological institute ZAMG is sure that many urban planners will be more than happy about the data.

“There is a high demand for climate change adaption strategies. Heat is a big problem already and will be more serious in the future.” Together with other partners, ZAMG is working on three projects in Austria to support cities with their climate change adaption. 


CLARITY connects urban planners in Europe

That is ADAPT-UHI, GREEN.RESILIENT.CITY, which researches on climate change adaption strategies for old and new neighborhoods of Vienna and CLARITY, which boosts scientific exchange of climate change adaption strategies between projects in different parts of the European Union. 

In the end, parameters are different for every city and every project and have to be looked upon in detail. With temperature on the rise and cities to grow the one thing they have in common is that they are in serious need of a climate change adaption strategy.


Project ADAPT-UHI in collaboration with ACRP (Austrian Climate Research Programme) from Klima-und Energiefonds:

Project GREEN.RESILIENT.CITY in collaboration with Stadt der Zukunft from FFG (Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft):

Project CLARITY in collaboration with EU Horizon 2020:
myclimateservices.eu/heat-islands und clarity-h2020.eu/