The urban heat island effect — effectively, the reality that dark roads and buildings in urban areas absorb and radiate far more heat than vegetation in rural areas does, which makes cities notably hotter than surrounding areas — is going to more than double the city-level costs of dealing with rising temperatures caused by anthropogenic climate change over the coming century, according to a new study.
“The focus has been so long on global climate change that we forgot about the local effects,” commented study co-author Richard Tol, an economics professor at the University of Sussex, England. “Ignoring the urban heat island effect leads to a fairly drastic under-estimate of the total impact of climate change.”
Why, you ask? Because around 54% of the world’s population now live in cities, and this figure is expected to grow over the coming decades.
Reuters provides more: “Overall, costs for cities to limit climate change including the local heat impacts could be 2.6 times higher than without the urban heat island effect, the survey in the Nature Climate Change journal said. For the worst-off city, accumulated losses could be up to 10.9% of a city’s gross domestic product by 2100, they wrote of the survey of 1,962 cities including Tokyo, New York, Beijing, Lagos, Sao Paulo, London, and Moscow.”
“The study did not try to identify cities most at risk but lead author Francisco Estrada of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, told Reuters they were likely to be ‘close to the tropics and with the large populations’. Some past studies have said cities in colder climates, such as Stockholm or Anchorage, could have net benefits from warming because of lower winter heating bills. But Estrada said such effects were likely to be short-lived as temperatures climb.”
No surprise there. Something not noted by the new study, though, is that as temperatures in these cities rise, so too will the rates of many infectious diseases — which will itself lead to greatly increased costs in some regards.
The report notes that it may be possible to avoid some of the coming problems (to some degree) through the use of lighter-colored asphalt, widespread tree planting, the use of white roofs, etc.
By the new study’s estimates, using such an approach to transition around a fifth of a large city’s pavements and roofs to cooler/lighter options could cut a city’s ambient air temperatures by up to 1.4° Fahrenheit (0.8° Celsius).
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