Heat stress is a hot topic

First congress on adaptation to heat stress

The first heat stress congress in The Netherlands took place on June 25th 2018 in Den Bosch. With approximately 400 participants, it showed that heat stress is an issue for human health, functioning of infrastructure and liveability of urban areas. The congress was opened by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management. She recognized that although a lot is being done in the field of adaptation to climate change, heat stress deserves more attention. Temperatures are rising slowly but steadily. According to the minister, this change is not always directly visible but heat stress is a very urgent problem that has been underestimated in adaptation efforts so far. There is no ‘blueprint’ for adaptation to heat stress and at the conference, many parties meet for the first time. After that Jan Terlouw (writer and retired politician) brought in perspective the changes that have occurred in the last century and provide some hope about how we can tackle the climate threats that we, as society, face now. He emphasized that technologically a lot is already possible, but actually our capacity to change and adapt to the rapidly changing climate is still a limiting factor. Finally the director of the KNMI, Gerard van der Steenhoven, emphasized that reliable data are crucial to make good policy and gave us a preview of how they are preparing the new KNMI climate scenarios, including not only data and predictions, but also story lines to facilitate communication.

Causes and consequences of sub surface heat island effect

The Netherlands is getting warmer. During the congress three main aspects were addressed: What can we do to reduce the vulnerability of people, cities and nature? These issues were addressed during several sessions and thematic debates. In our session about how to keep drinking water cool, which was organized by PWN, we discussed the causes of warming up of the soil (sub surface heat island effect) and the challenges that this poses on drinking water infrastructure. The results of research conducted by KWR over the last years were presented. Already, there are locations in cities where soil temperatures reach above 25°C have been measured, so called underground hotspots. Solutions to this problem have to be found in a decentralized governance context where different stakeholders have to collaborate to find effective solutions. With the participants we discussed possible measures to manage the sub surface heat island effect or the warming up of the drinking water in the distribution network. Ideas such as innovative design of pipes, management of the ground water level, determining maximum heat losses from anthropogenic heat sources such as district heating systems or buried high voltage cables were identified. Overall, it was stressed that an effective implementation of these measures is very dependent upon city’s spatial planning, above ground and underground.

The key aspect is working together

Heat stress is a complex problem that requires working together to adapt the cities. Climate proof cities can only be achieved by matching objectives, resources and visions of the different stakeholders involved. Planning and adapting to heat stress is a task that has to start now. This congress is a first step in facilitating this cooperation. Here municipalities, companies, research institutes and other parties have showcased their interest, now links have to be made to prepare an integral plan to manage heat stress.

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