This is why Europe can’t afford to forget the summer heat

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Just because summer is now over, we cannot afford to shy away from this challenge — long-term changes implemented now are the most effective means to rethink how we build and live in cities before it’s too late, Dima Zogheib writes.


Heat records were smashed across Europe, tourist attractions were closed, red alerts were placed in 23 Italian cities and 1,200 children were evacuated from a Greek summer camp to escape wildfires.

Heatwaves are set to become even more frequent and severe, with the number of cities exposed to extreme temperatures estimated to nearly triple by 2050, and certain groups including those on lower income, older adults, infants and people with underlying health issues.

European cities have been pioneering heat resilience in many ways — with Athens being one of the first in the world to appoint a Chief Heat Officer and cities like Seville naming heatwaves to boost public awareness.

However, Europe can’t leave it to state and city leaders to tackle urban heat. The issue of urban heat islands needs to also be addressed at a street and neighbourhood level, by those shaping the built environment. And nature needs to be at the heart of the solution.

Europe’s urban heat island problem

The built environment is a huge contributor to increasing city temperatures. We’ve pushed out nature, concreted our streets and built high in steel and glass, creating what is known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect — where urban temperatures are far higher than their rural surroundings.

We recently launched our Urban Heat Snapshot to encourage city leaders, urban designers, and all those shaping the built environment to better understand how their designs can mitigate urban hot spots, particularly for the most vulnerable communities. 

The snapshot maps the most extreme “hot spots” in six major cities — from Madrid to Cairo — around the world. It found Madrid’s urban centre has the most extreme UHI “hot spot”, with temperatures 8.5°C hotter than its rural surroundings.

And importantly it highlights that not everyone within cities experiences heat in the same way. 

There can be big differences from one neighbourhood to the next, with Madrid’s built-up downtown experiencing temperatures almost 8°C hotter than El Retiro Park a short distance away. In the majority of cities, the coolest spots were found always in parks, away from residential and commercial areas.

The good news is that urban heat can be tackled, and there are several things cities can do right away.

Use every space possible for nature and increase tree cover

Prioritising and investing in the value, quality and quantity of nature in cities is a must to reduce urban heat. In many European cities, greenery is confined to small spaces, with people questioning how much room there is to add different forms of green infrastructure.

But old, established European cities have much more available space than you’d think to add nature. 

In fact, more than half of the space in cities — including roofs and streets — is open space, providing a large canvas for deploying green and blue infrastructure to build resilience. Urban designers and planners need to think creatively to deploy nature strategically and equitably throughout our cities.

Trees have been proven to lower temperatures in cities and reduce heat-related mortality. In fact, a recent study found increasing tree coverage in European cities to 30% could have prevented 2,644 excess deaths. 

Advanced technologies now allow designers to understand exactly the type and number of trees that are required. 

Create more permeable surfaces and establish cool islands

Permeable surfaces, such as bare or planted soil, tend to absorb less heat compared to impermeable surfaces like concrete or asphalt. 

Sustainable urban drainage schemes are not only slowing down water runoff during heavy rainfalls, but also increasing areas of green space, and cooling neighbourhoods during hot temperatures.

We need to create a network of cooling spaces in cities for people to take refuge from the heat. 


For example, in London, we worked to map cool spaces where locals could find opportunities to shelter during hot days in a bid to reduce the risk to health from hot weather. 

Something as simple as bringing back drinking water fountains to cities could improve the health of citizens, becoming the main access point to water during a drought.

Encourage behaviour change and deploy digital tools

Design can only do so much. Fundamentally, people will need to change the way they live in cities within the next decade. 

Hot countries around the world have been adjusting their lives to this for centuries, and it’s time to learn from them — Northern European cities can learn from changes already established in the South such as siestas and shop and restaurant closures over peak heat.

We now have the digital capabilities to bridge the gap between what’s causing the UHI effect in cities and the impact of our designs on urban heat and we need to be using these in all projects. 


Adapting European cities to extreme heat requires a vision and urgent implementation. 

We should be designing at a street and neighbourhood level, bringing back nature throughout cities, not just confined to parks and existing green areas, to build more resilient and more inclusive cities for everyone.

Just because summer is now over, we cannot afford to shy away from this challenge — long-term changes implemented now are the most effective means to rethink how we build and live in cities, before it’s too late.

Dima Zogheib is Nature Positive Design Lead at Arup, specialising in sustainable, resilient and inclusive design.

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View Q&A: Europe’s heatwaves show we might be spinning out of control

As Europe swelters in record temperatures this summer, Euronews View spoke to Global Chief Heat Officer at UN-Habitat Eleni Myrivili about the impact of the extreme heat and what can be done to save lives and make our cities more liveable.

Large parts of southern and eastern Europe have been sweltering in soaring temperatures once more due to the latest string of heatwaves caused by a massive anticyclone aptly named Charon.

The record-breaking temperatures reached the mid to high 40s in Italy and Greece and even approached the 50s in parts of Spain, causing a spike in heat-related deaths as authorities scrambled for measures that would ease their impact.

Wildfires, another consequence of extreme heat, have been raging in several European countries, including Greece and Italy, disrupting travel, endangering towns and cities in their path and forcing evacuations of tens of thousands of people.

The continent has experienced a similar pattern over the previous summers, yet scientists are now warning that the window to turn things around and revert the climate emergency is becoming exceptionally slim.

Euronews View spoke with Global Chief Heat Officer at UN-Habitat and Board Member at the EU Mission for Adaptation of the European Commission, Eleni Myrivili, about the consequences of extreme weather events have on the continent’s citizens and the immediate and long-term measures governments can implement to save lives and make our cities more liveable. 

Euronews View: You have done an immense amount of work on extreme heat both locally in the city of Athens and on a much larger scale. What can you tell us about where we are now in 2023 in terms of the heatwaves we are experiencing?

Eleni Myrivili: I’ve been working since 2021 in Athens as a chief heat officer, but I had started working on heat resilience before that in Athens, so I created the strategy and started doing different kinds of measures and policies in relation to heat resilience since 2017, and I didn’t really expect things to accelerate so fast.

I mean, it’s not really a surprise, but this year, with the heat domes sitting over the US, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and China, it kind of got really scary. It’s been weeks and weeks of heatwaves and then a couple of days of respite, and then again and again.

It feels like we might have started spinning out of control, which is something that the scientists have been talking about and which is what we’ve been trying to prevent by sticking with the 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, with the Paris Agreement.

But it seems like things have started maybe already to get a little bit out of control because it’s happening fast, right? 

In Europe, we seem to be heating up twice as fast as the global average. The global average today is 1.1C, 1.2C, and in Europe, we’ve already reached an average of 2.2C from the pre-industrial era. 

And that’s because the Arctic is heating up very fast and because of the Mediterranean. So the south and the north are bringing up the average. 

But hopefully, this will become a wake-up call because it’s in the Northern Hemisphere, so the big polluters are the ones now dealing with these extreme heat events, and I’m still hoping this will move the mitigation aspect much much faster.

Euronews View: The extreme temperatures felt in the south of the continent have still not reached Europe’s generally colder parts. Could you explain what kind of difficulties people experience in their daily lives in a city like Athens, where they have to deal with rolling heatwaves like we’ve seen this summer?

Eleni Myrivili: First of all, it’s the fact that we have a very high death threat. We don’t really know yet, but we’re very worried about what the impact of these rolling heatwaves will be on the mortality of the people that are most vulnerable in Athens.

We have a city that has a lot of people that are above 60 years old — in Europe, we do have a lot of people that are older in relation to other continents. We have a high average age, and this is a problem because people over 60 are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat.

But it’s not just them. It’s also women that are pregnant, babies, young children, and people with pre-existing conditions — any kind of pre-existing conditions, any kind of problems that the body might have from physical to mental illness, really deteriorates fast with heat.

And then we also have people that work that are also very vulnerable, and we’re really worried for their health. 

So last year, in 2022, we thought we had lost about 15,000 to 20,000 people in all of Europe linked to extreme heat. Two weeks ago, we had a report that actually raised the number to over 60,000 people. 

When we lose 60,000 people in one summer because of one extreme phenomenon, we have to make sure people realise how bad this is. So one aspect has to do with death morbidity and mortality, and we will find out months later what the exact numbers were.

The other very big issue is work productivity. So we have a city that starts kind of not really functioning because everything slows down, and all the kind of ways that people interact and all the ways that people work slow down.

So that’s why we have the people that are working in manual jobs because of fatigue because they don’t sleep. Due to this long period of heat, what starts happening is that we have higher levels of work-related injuries.

**Euronews View: What about lifestyle and basic services? 

Eleni Myrivili: Another issue that happens in Athens is that the city slowly empties out, the people withdraw inside or into airconditioned areas, or they come out only at night or after sunset. 

This is a real pity because our cities in the Mediterranean are lively and beautiful, and vibrant in the summer. People in them love to meet and hang out and eat and talk, and I’m hoping we’re not going to see our cities become more and more cities that are just outside-inside, where this continuum kind of stops.

And finally, tourism is also an issue. We have to realise that we have to protect the tourists who might not be so accustomed to these crazy temperatures. 

So in Athens, together with the Red Cross, we had ambulances outside of the Acropolis giving out water and information, we closed the Acropolis and other archaeological spaces, but it’s a weird kind of shutting down of vital parts of the city. 

And also, there’s the fear of energy blackouts. We have had a few blackouts in some of the suburbs, but I believe they were more linked to the fires that were closer to Athens about two weeks ago. 

But there is this lingering stress about our infrastructure, especially our basic resources: water, energy, and food that we will make sure we have enough — and thankfully, we didn’t have any serious problems yet as far as I can tell.

Euronews View: All of this points to a bigger trend where the quality of life suffers, which seems very juxtaposed to the general outside view of “Well, doesn’t that just mean that you have nicer weather for longer,” or “The tourists are going to love it, and more tourists are going to come because it’s sunnier and hotter and they’re going to enjoy the seaside even more.”

**Meanwhile, what kind of remedies are there that you can maybe envision or propose that can be done immediately? **

Eleni Myrivili: One thing that has made me happy is that since last year, the Greek Ministry of Labour and the city of Athens have created a decree that has put into effect a really detailed set of guidelines for workers and employers that they have to follow in order to protect the workers from heatwaves. 

And also, just last week, because we had the real peak of the third heatwave, there was a special addition to the decree that between 11 am and 5 pm, they prohibited all deliveries, including closing down all the platforms for deliveries. This is really at the forefront of all the different measures that we can take. 

Then there is a whole series of different measures that we can take to protect the most vulnerable. 

A lot of cities have done a lot of different things, but there are more short-term measures like making sure that during heatwaves, people have access to information, spaces that can protect them, and water and cooling mechanisms so that they can protect themselves.

Then the other big category is creating cities that are cooler, which involves how we deal with the public space, how we design the public space and what we do with the public space and how we deal with our construction sector and how we retrofit kind of our construction sector so that we can make a difference. 

Euronews View: Thinking ahead, what would be the actual cure for this? What would be the solution?

Eleni Myrivili: So the main thing, just the most basic thing that gives comfort to people, is shade. 

If we manage to give them shade from trees and water elements, this is the best possible option because trees don’t just create shade — they do this thing called vapour transpiration, which lowers the temperature, so actually, they are amazing for people, and they’re life-saving for cities.

We have to slowly make our public spaces, which are made out of cement and concrete, into more water-permeable, green-and-blue kind of infrastructure. 

And we also have to slowly take cars away from the city centres, which often is not very popular but will become more and more a matter of survival for our cities.

Cars heat up the atmosphere and the air of the cities even more, like air conditioning, and also they take up a lot of our public space. 

In many of our cities, the majority of our public spaces are dedicated to cars, which is ridiculous, so this has to stop.

And also, we have to stop making any kind of public places, such as big squares and big monumental interventions, that don’t take into account the idea of the idea of lowering temperatures by creating wind movement or shading into the design really seriously.

These are the basic principles that we have to start using for our public spaces and one of the most important things we can do for our cities. 

I call this third pillar redesign — a whole series of things we have to do to redesign our cities, and the second pillar is something I call preparedness — which are all these short-term measures we can take to protect the most vulnerable. 

The first pillar is what I call awareness raising, which is ensuring that we make it clear that this is a very, very dangerous factor for our health. 

There’s no other disaster out of all kinds of disasters linked to extreme weather events, or linked to other things like earthquakes, that has the amount of mortality linked to it as the heat has. 

In Europe, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands or 100,000 in a decade, while all the other things amount to 1,000, 3,000. The numbers tend to be really, really small in relation to the people we lose to the heat. 

And this is still something that people have to realise — and realise the seriousness of it.

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Phoenix hits 43C for 19th straight day, breaking US city records in global heat wave

A dangerous 19th straight day of scorching heat in Phoenix set a record for U.S. cities Tuesday, confined many residents to air-conditioned safety and turned the usually vibrant metropolis into a ghost town.

The city’s record streak of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) or more stood out even amid sweltering temperatures across the globe. It reached 117 degrees (47.2 Celsius) by 3 p.m.

Human-caused climate change and a newly formed El Nino are combining to shatter heat records worldwide, scientists say.

No other major city – defined as the 25 most populous in the United States – has had any stretch of 110-degree days or 90-degree nights longer than Phoenix, said weather historian Christopher Burt of the Weather Company.

“When you have several million people subjected to that sort of thermal abuse, there are impacts,” said NOAA Climate Analysis Group Director Russell Vose, who chairs a committee on national records.

For Phoenix, it’s not only the brutal daytime highs that are deadly. The lack of a nighttime cooldown can rob people without access to air conditioning of the break their bodies need to function properly.

With Tuesday’s low of 94, the city has had nine straight days of temperatures that didn’t go below 90 at night, breaking another record there, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Salerno, who called it “pretty miserable when you don’t have any recovery overnight.”

On Monday, the city also set a record for the hottest overnight low temperature: 95 (35 Celsius). During the day, the heat built up so early that the city hit the 110 mark a couple minutes before noon.

Dog parks emptied out by the mid morning and evening concerts and other outdoor events were cancelled to protect performers and attendees.

The city’s Desert Botanical Garden, a vast outdoor collection of cactus and other desert plants, over the weekend began shutting down at 2 p.m. before the hottest part of the day.

In the hours before the new record was set, rivers of sweat streamed down the sunburned face of Lori Miccichi, 38, as she pushed a shopping cart filled with her belongings through downtown Phoenix, looking for a place to get out of the heat.

“I’ve been out here a long time and homeless for about three years,” said Miccichi. “When it’s like this, you just have to get into the shade. This last week has been the hottest I ever remember.”

Some 200 cooling and hydration centers have been set up across the metro area, but most shut down between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. due to staffing and funding issues.

The entire globe has simmered to record heat both in June and July. Nearly every day of this month, the global average temperature has been warmer than the unofficial hottest day recorded before 2023, according to University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer. U.S. weather stations have broken more than 860 heat records in the past seven days, according to NOAA.

Rome reached an all-time high of 109 (42.9 degrees Celsius), with record heat reported throughout Italy, France, Spain and parts of China. Catalonia smashed records reaching 113 (45 Celsius), according to global weather record keeper Maximiliano Herrera.

And if that’s not enough, smoke from wildfires, floods and droughts have caused problems globally.

In addition to Phoenix, Vose and others found less populous places such as Death Valley and Needles, California; and Casa Grande, Arizona, with longer hot streaks, but none in locations where many people live. Death Valley has had an 84-day streak of 110-degree temperatures.

The last time Phoenix didn’t reach 110 F (43.3 C) was June 29, when it hit 108 (42.2 C). The record of 18 days above 110 that was tied Monday was first set in 1974.

“This will likely be one of the most notable periods in our health record in terms of deaths and illness,” said David Hondula, chief heat officer for the city. “Our goal is for that not to be the case.”

Phoenix City Parks and Recreation workers Joseph Garcia, 48, and Roy Galindo, 28, tried to stay cool as they trimmed shrubs. They work from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to avoid the hottest time of the day.

“It gets super hot out here and sometimes we have to take care of the public,” said Galindo, adding he sometimes find people passed out on the grass. “A lot of these people aren’t drinking water.”

Retired Phoenix firefighter Mark Bracy, who has lived in the city most of his 68 years, went on a two-hour morning climb Tuesday, up and down Piestewa Peak, which is 2,610 feet high.

“I’ve been going up there regularly since I was in the Cub Scouts, but it was never this hot back then,” said Bracy. “We’ve had hot spells before, but never anything like this.”

Dr. Erik Mattison, director of the emergency department at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center in metro Phoenix, recalled a hiker in his 60s who was brought in last week with a core body temperature of 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Heat makes people sick. Heat makes people die,” Mattison said.

“And it’s not just older people,” he added. “We’ve seen professional athletes fall ill in the heat during training camp.”

Phoenix’s heat wave has both long and short-term causes, said Arizona State University’s Randy Cerveny, who coordinates weather record verification for the World Meteorological Organization.

Long-term high temperatures over recent decades are due to human activity, he said, while the short-term cause is high pressure over the western United States.

That high pressure, also known as a heat dome, has been around the Southwest cooking it for weeks. When it moved, it moved to be even more centered on Phoenix, said National Weather Service meteorologist Isaac Smith.

The Southwest high pressure not only brings the heat, it prevents cooling rain and clouds from bringing relief, Smith said. Normally, the Southwest’s monsoon season kicks in around June 15 with rain and clouds. But Phoenix has not had measurable rain since mid-March.

“This heat wave is intense and unrelenting,” said Katharine Jacobs, director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona. “Unfortunately, it is a harbinger of things to come.”


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Parisians are most at risk of dying in European heatwaves

Faced with the urgent task of safeguarding its residents against the deadly consequences of scorching heat, Paris finds itself at the forefront of the battle against soaring temperatures. Its population is the most at risk of dying from heatwaves than any other capital in Europe.

Among European capitals, Paris has long been regarded as the epitome of elegance, culture and romance. But beneath its picturesque façade lies a simmering danger that threatens its bustling population.

Paris is the most vulnerable capital in Europe when it comes to heatwaves. Its population faces the highest risk of heatwave-related deaths, according to an article recently published in The Lancet journal.

Researchers from various countries in Europe studied mortality risks due to heat and cold across 854 cities from 2000 to 2019. The findings were unequivocal. Paris topped the list in heat-related risk across all age groups, with a likelihood of excess deaths due to rising temperatures 1.6 times higher than other European cities. Amsterdam and Zagreb followed closely behind.

With the advent of rising temperatures due to climate change, Paris is bound to continue feeling the heat. By 2050, the city could reach temperatures of up to 50°C.

Urban heat island effect

Pinpointing the exact reason behind the vulnerability of Paris’s population when it comes to heatwaves is a complex task. “It’s difficult to isolate specific factors,” says Dr. Pierre Masselot, author of the study and researcher at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “The sheer size and density of the city definitely contribute to the heightened risk,” he says, explaining that with a population of over 2 million, the effects of heatwaves are amplified.

The socioeconomic standing of the city’s population is also an important variable to consider. “Being a big city, Paris has more disadvantaged inhabitants too,” says Masselot. Low-income neighbourhoods with limited access to green spaces, shade and air-conditioning bear the brunt of extreme heat, exacerbating the threat to vulnerable communities. “Add to this the fact that these communities often have higher rates of pre-existing health issues, and it becomes clear why” there is a greater risk to them, he says.

What is known as the “urban heat island effect” compounds the city’s deadly predicament. These hot spots occur when cities become significantly hotter than surrounding rural areas, primarily due to the proliferation of buildings and materials that absorb and retain heat. Paris’s famous grey rooftops are one example of this. While revered by famous painters like Vincent Van Gogh, the grey rooftops are made of zinc – a metal that absorbs heat. “The same goes for tarmac, which stores [and] then releases heat, making it more difficult for the city to cool down at night,” says Masselot. “And the presence of buildings blocks wind.”

Though the heat island effect can turn Paris into a veritable cauldron, temperature disparities exist from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. “Going from a dense industrial area to a park, for example, you can feel a significant drop,” Masselot explains.

Pollution also plays a significant role in Paris’s vulnerability to heatwaves. Largely generated by vehicle emissions, air pollution creates a “sort of greenhouse effect” that traps heat and intensifies extreme temperatures. “Exhaust fumes are darker and therefore reduce the city’s albedo (the proportion of incoming solar radiation reflected by the various surfaces in the urban environment), storing more heat,” the researcher explains.

And then there is the fact that heatwaves have been historically less common in Paris than other European capitals like Madrid, for example. “Cities used to heatwaves have adapted to them,” says Masselot. “So in Madrid, the mortality risk is slightly lower than in Paris for the same temperature.”

Lessons from a deadly summer

The summer of 2003 etched a harrowing chapter in European history. A heatwave of unprecedented magnitude swept across the continent, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. More than 70,000 people died as a result, with over 15,000 of those deaths recorded in France alone. Temperatures in Paris climbed above 40°C for weeks on end.

The healthcare system was overwhelmed, with hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of patients suffering from heatstroke and dehydration. Public authorities were completely unprepared and were later criticised for their reluctance to attribute heat as the primary cause of death. France’s director-general for health at the time, Lucien Abenhaim, handed in his resignation due to the “controversies surrounding the handling” of the deaths “connected with the heatwave”. A state of emergency was declared, allowing patients to be sent to military hospitals and for crisis morgues to be established to handle the influx of bodies.

Those most affected were the elderly. Half of those who died were over the age of 85 years old, and 92% of the victims lived in isolation, many without family, friends or social ties to claim their bodies. “It opened a lot of people’s eyes,” says Masselot. “It was a turning point for the whole continent.” Some climatologists even called the heatwave the “ground zero of global warming”.

The magnitude of the tragedy prompted a collective awakening, marking a pivotal moment for the French government to take proactive measures to protect its citizens. Paris took significant strides to combat the escalating threat of heatwaves and implemented measures to avoid another disaster.

Since then, authorities have created a heatwave plan. Information on best practices is dispersed across the city, with posters detailing what to do in case of extreme heat. A telephone hotline has been set up by the city so that vulnerable people in isolation are called regularly by authorities, who check in to ensure their state of health is adequate. “Cool islands”  oases of relief from sweltering temperatures  located in museums, libraries, swimming spots, and green spaces have been created.

Climate Action Plan was created in 2018, with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo at its head. Reducing vehicle traffic during heatwaves was noted as a key strategy. The mayor promised that by 2030, police would prevent the vehicles that pollute the most from being driven in the city during peak heat periods.

The plan outlined ways of improving building insulation and ventilation, changing construction guidelines that are adapted to the consequences of climate change like surging summer heat. It also set out to revolutionise Parisian roofs, stating that by 2050 all roofs must “produce at least one” of the following resources: renewable energy with solar panels, food through urban agriculture or water through rainwater collection and storage.  

For Masselot, both long-term and short-term solutions are necessary. “In the short term, it would be important for public health authorities to identify people at risk [of dying from a heatwave] so they can be notified in advance that high temperatures are looming and find ways of cooling down,” he says. “In the long term, cities will need more green spaces, less asphalt, but also to change their buildings so they store less heat, decrease pollution and ensure that they tend to populations with higher health risks,” Masselot explains.

To its credit, the city has acknowledged the vulnerability of its populace and is diligently working on implementing necessary measures. “Paris is far from being the black sheep when it comes to adapting for heatwaves,” says Masselot.

However, the urgency to act cannot be overstated. “Things are going to get worse and there will be longer heatwaves as time goes on,” he says. “Cities need to prepare for that as soon as possible.”

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