A team of researchers from England, Mexico and the Netherlands conducted an analysis of 1,692 cities and found the “heat island effect” will raise costs by 2.6 times since urban populations and economies are more susceptible to rising global temperatures.
“Any hard-won victories over climate change on a global scale could be wiped out by the effects of uncontrolled urban heat islands,” said co-author Richard Tol, professor of economics at the University of Sussex.
An urban heat island is the phenomenon in which cities are significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas due to human activity and the predominance of non-natural surfaces like concrete and asphalt. The phenomenon is particularly pronounced at night, during periods of low wind and in the summer and winter.
Urban heat islands are expected to add an additional two degrees to global warming estimates for the most populated cities by 2050, according to the study published Monday in Nature Climate Change.
The study focused on the economic implications of rising temperatures in the urban environment, saying it will create a drain due to increased costs related to cooling, increased air and water pollution and a decrease in the productivity of workers, the study found.
Researchers say the study shows the emphasis on global solutions to climate change needs to be supplemented with a local approach that focuses on measures cities can introduce to mitigate the effects of rising temperatures.
“It is clear that we have until now underestimated the dramatic impact that local policies could make in reducing urban warming,” Tol said.
Cities account for less than 1 percent of Earth’s surface, but make up 80 percent of the global gross domestic product. They also consume about 78 percent of energy resources and host about half the world’s population.
Potential solutions are incorporating “cool pavements” designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat, using similar technology for roofs and planting vegetation widely throughout the cityscape.
“We show that city-level adaptation strategies to limit local warming have important economic net benefits for almost all cities around the world,” Tol said.
He said these localized solutions should be implemented alongside global strategies.
“It doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario,” he said.
Researchers from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Vrije University Amsterdam also contributed to the study.