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Addressing heat in cities

Let's decentralise, reimagine and restructure by creating more "green envelopes" in our cities

A clean, health environment - a fundamental right - small escapes by franzisko hauser/Flickr

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According to reports by non-governmental organisation Think City, which did a land temperature study for five cities in Malaysia, there have been increases in temperatures of between 1.64C and 6.75C over the last few decades due to development and changing urban trends.

The peak temperature increases of only 1.64C in the Kuala Lumpur city centre over a 30-year period between December 1989 and October 2019 was attributed to the efficiency of domestic gardens, parks and woodlands in the city.

Ipoh recorded a peak temperature increase of 6.75C within a 21-year period between November 1998 and March 2019, the highest temperature increases among the five cities studied. This was due to an increase in areas with a maximum temperature range, by 245% in 2019, or from 66km to 163sq km, which indicated extreme ecological change and urban trends in Ipoh.

It is obvious from the report that temperatures in Malaysian cities are increasing. Unless drastic and holistic action is taken to address it, we will suffer from severe health problems related to heat, which will also lead to internal migration among the people to places that are lower in temperature.

Extreme heat caused by carbon emissions from heavy industries and old building surfaces should encourage cities to take a more decentralised approach to governing climate change.

The state and local governments should be at the forefront in ensuring the greening of cities, which requires a shift from fossil fuel dependence to cleaner energies.

Malaysia should take heed from the Madrid model to green its cities. According to the book The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, the greening movement in Spain began as an effort to combat rising temperatures. Because of Madrid’s latitude, it is one of the driest cities in Europe. The city, home to more than six million people, was several degrees warmer than the countryside just a few miles away.

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Madrid made dramatic efforts to reduce the number of vehicles and create a “green envelope” around the city to help with cooling, oxygenating and filtering pollution. Plazas were repaved with porous material to capture rainwater, black roofs were painted white and plants were omnipresent.

The plants cut off noise, released oxygen, insulated south-facing walls, shaded pavements and dispersed water vapour into the air. The massive effort was a huge success and was replicated all over the world. Madrid’s economy boomed as its expertise put it at the cutting edge of a new industry.

The Association for Community and Dialogue is of the view that the above model entails the reimagining and restructuring of cities that is crucial to solving extreme heat due to climate change.

From the Madrid model of encountering climate change, Malaysia should come up with a holistic approach to address extreme heat in cities. We seem to be satisfied with merely planting trees while ignoring the importance of reducing vehicle numbers on the roads, or coming up with transition plans towards green energy and gradually doing away with industry processes that are fossil fuel-dependent.

The Madrid experience has shown the importance of a solid green movement in the cities.

Let’s decentralise, reimagine and restructure by creating more “green envelopes” in our cities, with cooling, oxygenating and filtering pollution to reduce heat in our cities. – New Straits Times

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