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Australia's capital cities are getting hotter — but there are ways to cool them down

By Camron Slessor, Monday December 9, 2019 - 18:21 EDT
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Experts have gathered in Adelaide to discuss strategies to combat rising urban heat. - ABC

High temperatures, increasing populations and reduced open spaces are just some of the factors behind rising urban heat in Australian cities, but experts believe there are several solutions to combat it.

Architecture, city planning and urban development specialists are among those to have gathered in Adelaide this week to discuss the challenges facing cities around Australia to control increasing temperatures.

It comes after the city reached 46.6 degrees Celsius in January this year, .

Professor Veronica Soebarto is chair of the Heat and Habitat in Cities Symposium, which is being held at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide.

She said intensifying heat in Australian cities was caused by a lack of greenery, as well as concrete buildings and other hard surfaces that "radiate heat".

"Our activities create heat and increasingly, in modern society, with cars and air-conditioning, that would add to the already warm environment," Professor Soebarto, from the University of Adelaide, told the ABC.

"Concrete and hard surfaces add to the heat.

"Compounding [this is] the fact that we've had a warming climate due to global issues."

The problem is a pressing one, but Professor Soebarto said there were a range of options for cities wishing to reduce the amount of radiant heat.

Need for more green space and better building materials

In recent times, .

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, , while the most recent spring .

Australian capital cities have been adopting strategies to combat rising urban heat — including in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as smaller areas like Paramatta.

"In the City of Parramatta, they are working to look at the implementation of cool paving and cool materials in public spaces," Professor Soebarto said.

"In Adelaide, with our sort of architecture, they have done studies to look at how to reduce heat in alleyways.

"Green infrastructure is one of the main strategies — not just trees, but also adding more shade by landscaping [and] the amount of plants and parks.

"What has been implemented in some places, and I think Adelaide has started doing it, is definitely increasing the canopy of trees, providing natural shade."

An added challenge is responding to the demands of Australia's growing population.

will necessitate a rethink about building materials, Professor Soebarto said.

"There have been efforts to implement cool materials, cool surfaces and surfaces that reflect heat to the atmosphere quickly," she said.

"The attempt to have much better buildings in the city — hopefully that will help reduce the urban overheating.

"The urban spaces need to be better designed and the building itself plays a major role."

Heat 'might become unbearable' without mitigation

These solutions might, however, be the tip of the iceberg.

Professor Soebarto said that with extreme temperatures occurring more frequently, it was vital that cities had long-term strategies in place, particularly for those most vulnerable.

But she warned that this was increasingly difficult due to the unpredictability of the climate.

"The data does show the [temperature] intensity is getting higher and the frequency is getting a lot more compared to 100 years ago … it might become unbearable," she said.

"Another thing we need to remember is there is a part of society that is vulnerable … older people and people with not much income.

"Even though they might live in houses and have air-conditioning systems, they're probably not going to turn on the cooling because they can't afford it."


© ABC 2019

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