With temperatures in cities set to rise in the coming decades, many public and private players in emerging markets are looking to tackle the challenge of extreme heat through technology, sustainable building techniques and the expansion of urban green spaces.

Heat Consequences

The Covid-19 pandemic helped spur the growth of smart cities, with governments tapping into data-collection infrastructure to track and limit the spread of the virus. Similar technologies are being harnessed to map and mitigate the impact of climate change in urban spaces.

Microsoft, in partnership with the Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society, has developed an artificial intelligence model that projects the impact of heat on vulnerable populations in India. Previously deployed to track cyclone and flood risk, the technology uses satellite imagery and building assessments to measure heatwave risk for urban areas and communicate effective interventions to protect vulnerable populations from extreme temperatures.

Tracking emissions in cities can help address so-called urban heat islands (UHIs). Cities are responsible for roughly 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, due partly to motorised transport systems and construction, both of which consume large amounts of fossil fuels. Governments are increasingly working to spread awareness of the dangers posed by warming cities and mitigate risk stemming from the potential economic consequences of intense heat.

A November 2022 study commissioned by UK relief and development agency Christian Aid found that the GDP growth rate for African countries could fall by as much as 64% by 2100, even if the world manages to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as the continent is particularly susceptible to the effects of a warming planet despite accounting for less than 4% of its CO output. In the Middle East, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have all implemented summer work bans to help protect workers by limiting their exposure to the outdoors during periods when temperatures can reach life-threatening levels.

Traditional urban development techniques can mitigate temperatures, particularly in the MENA region, where construction materials significantly influence emissions and heat absorption. Given that cities are major contributors to climate change, responsible material choices that reflect heat and reduce energy consumption in new buildings are crucial.

Green Efforts

Many tenets of sustainable urban planning also provide relief for UHIs. Green areas help preserve moisture, which in turn cools down the surrounding areas. Public transport systems, meanwhile, reduce the reliance on cars while simultaneously limiting the need for heat-absorbing road networks.

One significant ecological initiative is Jubail Mangrove Park, located on Abu Dhabi’s Al Jubail Island. Opened as a tourist attraction just before the pandemic, the park is a short drive from Abu Dhabi City’s downtown. Scientists say the expanse of mangrove trees helps combat climate change by absorbing and storing excess CO and encouraging biodiversity.

Latin America, the world’s second-most-urbanised region, offers several case studies for sustainable urban development. Spearheaded by the government of Colombia and the World Economic Forum, the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative seeks to encourage the development of cities alongside the growth of nature.

In 2022 Mexico City was awarded a World Green City Award by the International Association of Horticultural Producers for planting more than 27m trees and plants and rehabilitating 16 large parks. Curitiba, located in southern Brazil, is considered one of the greenest cities in the world. It is home to the first bus rapid transit system, which accounts for 50% of trips taken by residents in the city, and extensive green spaces, including 48 parks and 13m sq metres of native vegetation. Residents can also trade in recyclable waste for food as part of an exchange programme.