Athens, Greece has become the second city in the world to appoint a chief heat officer, tasked to offering solutions and alternatives to the handling the heatwaves and extreme weather the city is facing more regularly and to ensure people’s safety during such crises.
Heatwaves are striking the Greek capital more frequently, leading to health problems amongst the city’s most vulnerable, as well as the more-frequent closure of important sites, including the Acropolis and authorities saw the immediate need to act.
The appointment, made on Friday by the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, is the first in Europe and believed to be only the second in the world, after Miami-Dade county in Florida appointed a chief heat officer earlier this year.
Bakoyannis said: “Climate change for our city means more frequent and dangerous extreme high temperatures for residents and for tourists who are critical for our economy. Unfortunately, Athens is not unique – heat is an emergency for cities across Europe and the world.”
Eleni Myrivili, Athens’ new Chief Heat Officer, added: “We’ve been talking about global warming for decades, but we haven’t talked much about heat.”
Her main task will be to find ways to cool the city, beyond the obvious air conditioning in buildings, which only adds to the climate crisis by its massive use of energy around the world.
Myrvili will coordinate with Athens’ interdepartmental municipal team on Climate Adaptation, elevate extreme heat as a priority issue through media and other communication channels, and create a city-wide heat health task force.
She currently serves as Senior Advisor to the City of Athens for Resilience and Sustainability, a Senior Fellow at the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation, and a co-chair of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance Policy Working Group and the Steering Committee of the Resilient Cities Network.
Planting trees and plants and cultivating green spaces for shade and their cooling properties will be vital, as will redesigning roads and buildings, and examining the materials used for building.
Athens has already announced a program to increase the amount of green space and shade across the city and the creation of a system of “cool routes” through areas where the density of buildings poses a particular problem of heat build-up.
The city already uses a smartphone app to warn residents and tourists about the weather and provide heat-beating tips and also launched a tree adoption program to encourage citizens to “adopt” existing trees in the city and help water them, especially during the summer months.
This summer has been one of the hottest on record across much of Europe, with heat records tumbling in many areas, at the same time as floods have swept through Germany and Belgium. Across the world, China has experienced devastating flooding, while heatwaves have struck northern latitudes in Canada, and wildfires raged in the US.
Heat is a particular problem for people in cities because built-up areas and concrete store heat from the sun, while energy use and transport creates its own excess heat that adds to the natural warming effect, and there is less of the natural cooling effect of trees, vegetation and water.
The very young and elderly people are most at risk from overheating, though temperatures in some places are now so extreme that even healthy young people are increasingly at risk. At least 104,000 deaths among Europe’s elderly population were caused by excessive heat in 2018.
The City of Athens announced the position here.