Maria Rampa: Hi, I’m Maria Rampa and welcome to this episode of Engineering Reimagined. With the recent northern hemisphere summer the hottest on record and the southern part of the world expected to experience a similar scenario over the coming months, heat is a ‘hot’ topic.
Within the next five years, temperatures are expected to increase more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, so managing heat is a major climate change challenge across the globe.
In response, many cities have appointed Chief Heat Officers to raise awareness and influence policy and practice to mitigate risk, drive adaptation and create greater resilience to the impacts of rising temperatures on communities, infrastructure, the environment and economic activity.
The City of Melbourne is taking the threat of climate change seriously, employing two Chief Heat Officers in a shared role to address current and future heat-related climate challenges.
In this episode of Engineering Reimagined, Aurecon’s Climate Risk and Resilience Leader, Michael Nolan, speaks with City of Melbourne Chief Heat Officers Krista Milne and Tiffany Crawford about how they’re working towards keeping the city cool and protecting people, places and the planet. Let’s hear first from Krista about why the role of the Chief Heat Officer was created.
Krista Milne: It's an unusual title. Our roles were really created as a response to a recognition of the issue of extreme heat and many people aren't aware that extreme heat kills more people than all other natural hazards combined. So that includes bush fires, floods, storms. So, we're actually one of seven cities around the world with Chief Heat Officers. We've joined Freetown in Sierra Leone, Miami, Athens, Dakar in Bangladesh and Monterrey, Mexico and Santiago. And so, it's great to really be part of a global network to learn from each other about how we can address extreme heat within cities.
Michael Nolan: You've just come back from a range of events in the US I believe, with a focus around bringing together those Chief Heat Officers. Is there any particular aspects of that that you think is worth sharing?
Tiffany Crawford: We were there, Krista and I, as part of the Bloomberg City Lab, which was brilliant and also to take part in the World Urban Forests Conference in Washington, DC. We did come back with a sense of urgency around this issue that we certainly already had, but we feel even more energised.
Krista Milne: One of the stories that I could share from meeting the Miami Chief Heat Officer last year in DC, Jane Gilbert, shared that in the 2022 summer, her role was really galvanised around hearing about someone who passed away just waiting for a bus in Miami. That experience of hearing about someone just going about their business and passed away in that moment has really focused their attention on ensuring that everyone has a safe place to go and a way to get there in extreme heat. And preliminary results from this current summer that they've just experienced has shown that there's been a marked decline in mortality as compared to surrounding counties near Miami. So that really was an amazing outcome and showed the impact of actually having a role dedicated to heat and to educate people around the risks and train people about what we can do about it to prepare.
Michael Nolan: The scale of the impacts, I'm not sure if it's fully understood by people in terms of some of the economic, social, environmental impacts of the heat waves. If you could unpack a little bit more in what that means, say with this coming summer. What's the potential impact for Melbourne?
Tiffany Crawford: Heatwaves affect every aspect of Melburnians’, and in fact everybody's, lives. They can literally shut down our city and have in the past. And we know that with climate change that will get worse, whether it's trains not running, electricity going out in an apartment tower, air conditioning not working and then residents and their businesses can't function. We're not health professionals, but extreme heat is deadly, and it causes heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke. People might experience dizziness and dehydration. We also know that heat exacerbates existing health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, and can really impact even just on the way that people's medication works. Between 2001 and 2015, Melbourne recorded over 1283 heat wave related deaths and they're the deaths that we know of, right? There are a lot of people who are impacted by heat that may not be recorded but now that El Nino has been officially declared, we know that the coming, we fear it will be particularly ferocious. But what we have seen across the globe is the devastating economic impact, we saw firsthand that the heat wave in Melbourne in 2014, what that impact looks like. The city completely emptied out. We were working pretty much in a ghost town and it just wasn't safe for people to work outdoors or even to travel into their offices. The economic impact just in the City of Melbourne to our business, is over a four-day period, $37 million of loss. And extreme heat over that summer in cost to the entire Australian economy was $7 billion. This isn't just health and it's not just climate. This is an economic issue and it's something that we really have to bring into all of our decision making.
Krista Milne: Often, the economic impacts are felt most of against those that maybe can't afford them so those that work outdoor, the gig economy, people who still need to work but can't do their job from an air-conditioned place are the ones that might suffer more significantly during a heat wave. So, we're experiencing a lot of the impacts around climate change, they're not felt, equitably, and those that are more vulnerable are likely to experience the impact of extreme heat more significantly, and that's both from the economic perspective, but also the health perspective. That's something that we're very conscious of in the city in terms of the way that we're focusing our programmes and our communication to ensure that we're really targeting those that are most vulnerable in the community.
Michael Nolan: It's known that the heat waves impact mental health and that's across the spectrum of society, but the sorts of impacts on vulnerable communities and even people sleeping rough. Are there particular initiatives or activities that you're preparing for?
Krista Milne: We're very focused on really enhancing our communication with our most vulnerable. So, that's the elderly, carers, people with young children, people living in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Our learnings from other cities are really, we're focused on ensuring that everyone has a cool place to go in an extreme heat wave and they know where those are. We are enabling setting up our community facilities, so City of Melbourne's libraries and our recreational centres, to be an inviting place to go in a heat wave. But also focused on our parks and gardens can be a much cooler place than some people's homes. We've heard stories of some of our residents sleeping under trees and in stairwells during heat waves, and clearly that's not a safe situation for those people to be in. So, we're also putting out an expression of interest for private organisations, community groups to partner with us to provide their spaces as a cool place for our community.
Michael Nolan: The physical environment is also a key contributor to heat waves. Adjusting or changing the urban environment isn’t done quickly. It takes a lot of planning into design. If you wanted to talk to the challenge of integrating heat resilience into the design and development of the city's assets.
Tiffany Crawford: That's absolutely critical and fundamental to what we do. In the longer term, we have a critical role to play as city practitioners and city planners and engineers in the way that we deliver our city of the future. And in designing our cities for a changing climate that's an obligation now that's embedded in legislation. It's about ensuring that we design cities that are ready for that changing climate. And with that comes opportunity. So, for more than a decade, we have been turning Melbourne into a green oasis and creating an urban forest. Our urban foresters are planting over 3000 trees yearly to provide essential shade. And that then works to lower temperatures. Our aim under our urban forest strategy is for 40% of the city to be shaded by trees by 2040. And we're planning our city with green walls and roofs. We integrate water into our landscape. We've also been working on water storage, using recycled water for irrigation so that our parks and gardens can stay alive over summer. That's absolutely critical. And then of course, the role of our planning system. Much of the city is the private realm, so we need to ensure that buildings of the future integrate all of that into their fabric. And we've got ambitious planning scheme amendments for the city around the integration of green infrastructure and water in those new buildings. We look to other Chief Heat Officers to really understand what works for them. In Athens, they've uncovered water from ancient aqueducts that have been brought to the surface again. A tremendously hot city, lots of hard paved surfaces. If people are interested to go and have a look at that project, it's really fabulous.
Michael Nolan: Uncovering existing waterways or allowing expression of water within the city can have a significant impact on reducing this impact on individuals from the heat waves, but also I think increases the commercial and attractive nature of the city.
Tiffany Crawford: We know that nature has a really positive impact on people's health specifically on their mental health. People want to be around nature and that doesn't just mean, butterflies and birds, which are brilliant, and trees. It also means water. So, I think that there's these beautiful synergies between what we're trying to achieve and other public purposes.
Krista Milne: And maybe to take it back to an engineering approach, our natural ecosystems are our best asset in defence against any extreme climate event, whether it's floods or extreme heat for the cities, bringing back our natural environment, building it into the way that we plan and design our public realm and our buildings, so that we can all experience nature every day.
Michael Nolan: There's a lot of push in that nature-based solution space globally and the nature based financial disclosures may be an ally for private sector. Is there a challenge you'd like to put to businesses or others to participate more in the cooling of the city?
Krista Milne: Oh absolutely, we need everyone involved in that task. We've actually got an Urban Forest Fund, which is designed so that we're supporting increased screening on private property because, we in focusing on greening our city over the last 10 years, we will run out of places we can put more greenery. So, we want to partner with the private sector and provide funding to support businesses, building owners, community groups to green their rooftops and green lane ways. We've got some fantastic examples, Sky Farm, which is an urban farming business on a rooftop in Melbourne that was funded through the Urban Forest Fund.
Michael Nolan: if you could wave a magic wand or had limitless money, full political support, all of these sorts of elements at your disposal. What would be a special or a significant thing you that you could try to do?
Krista Milne: From my perspective on an engineering front is establishing resilience from a water perspective because we require water to keep our city cool and our learnings from the millennium drought is that we were at risk of shortening the life of our trees. We've been partnering with state government to increase the capture and harvesting of water through major storm water harvesting systems, but also to connect and build in integrated water management within our streets. But that's quite costly and takes a long time to build these projects and during times of rain, wetter periods, there's not as much interest politically in investing in those solutions. And then when it's dry, it's too late. So that's a big one from an infrastructure perspective that it would be nice to continue to invest at the rate that we need to so that we can continue to green our city and have the water availability when we need it.
Tiffany Crawford: This is an issue for cities around the world, is around creating neighbourhoods that are climate resilient on a neighbourhood scale. So, we're looking at all of the parts of the city as we build for the future. Not just building by building. And then creating that inner resilience where we're providing the infrastructure that the community needs holistically, rather than having to retrofit it at the end and really understanding what the future purpose of buildings is. We may not know what the demand for that building is going to be in 50 years. So, we need to be building buildings, if we're going to make that kind of investment, we're going to invest all of that embodied carbon. We want them to stand the test of time, so we need to ensure that the city that we create, that we are committing to something that is resilient, that is adaptable but that integrates all of those elements we've just spoken about. So green infrastructure that it's cooling our city, that it's contributing in some way to people's health and is a city for nature.
Michael Nolan: I really love the dynamic between the two of you in sharing your role. It's actually an inspiration for me to explore doing that at Aurecon, just the idea that there's so many things that need to be done, but a task is sometimes greater than what you could do by yourself. I'd love to how that came to be?
Krista Milne: Well, you've actually hit the nail on the head. We saw the opportunity as a massive challenge, leading the climate function for the city and both have aspirations in doing that. And while we might have gone into it from a functional perspective, both didn't want to work full time but were seeking that leadership level. What we found is that we have been able to be way more bold in our actions because we've got each other. The days can be hard. The decisions can be hard, but we need to be ambitious, we need to take risks and doing that with a partner alongside that has your back and we can test each other and challenge each other before we take that big step has absolutely been a game changer and the greatest growth opportunity that I've experienced in my career.
Michael Nolan: Some people might think that you only work in summer with the heat waves, but it's obviously a full year game and there'll be a cadence or there's things that you need to do in off season to prepare or that people wouldn't have the headspace for during heat waves.
Tiffany Crawford: We don't just work in summer. It isn't just us either. We have a team and lots of people working on this who are brilliant and we couldn't do it without them and a huge amount of preparation and planning goes into getting ready for extreme heat. We just looked to what happened in the northern hemisphere. So, we've been very busy this year, getting ready for the summer that's coming. In Australia, we've just come through the warmest winter since records began in 1910, and the driest September on record. So, we are on high alert, planning for the summer ahead, but we've got lots of solutions that we know work really well. Last summer, we had success providing air-conditioned cool spaces for the community and heat kits. Those kits contain water bottles, electrolytes and maps. Ensuring that all of our communications are coordinated with Emergency Management. Lots of people don't have access to air conditioning at home. when heat waves happen or electricity gets cut off, people still need a really cool place to go. We've set up a network of cool refuges across Melbourne as well as cool routes which really ask people to not take the fastest route through the city. But the coolest route. coolroutes.com.au is a website that people can use.
Krista Milne: The other thing I’d add is after summer learning from what happened and evaluating the success and feeding that into our planning for the next year. So, it's a constant iteration of how we're going, what impact are we making and how are we changing our community's awareness of extreme heat is really important in the off season.
Michael Nolan: Do you think the danger of heat waves is well understood by the community at this point in time?
Krista Milne: I’d say our community awareness is growing, but we certainly still have a way to go. Recent experience with bush fires means that people are way more aware of climate change as an issue and natural hazards as an issue and the need to be prepared. We're trying to bring some of that discipline that we have if you're in a rural community now, around bush fires into that issue of extreme heat and being prepared, knowing what to do in the lead up, so that you're more protected and how to plan for those days if you are needing to travel or if you don't have access to a cool place at home.
Michael Nolan: At the individual and community level, is there specific things that can be done to increase their own resilience?
Tiffany Crawford: There's lots of really practical things that people can do right now to get ready for heat. And I'm sure lots of people already integrating these into their lives, but they're always a good reminder. So, keeping your home cool by installing window shades and awnings to block the sun, being prepared for power outages and having a plan, an emergency kit nearby with, radio and bottled water, first aid kit and batteries. Pay close attention to the Bureau of Meteorology heat wave alerts. Think about travel arrangements and trips and the way that you move about the city. Looking out for alerts related to heat health. Transport disruptions. And then there's some really pragmatic things, such as, sitting in front of an electric fan if you don't have access to air-conditioning. opening your windows at night to let the cool air in and shutting them in the morning before the sun comes up. If your accommodation is getting too hot, rather than bearing it out, have a think about going to a cool place, like a library or a pool to have some respite. Even just bringing down your core body temperature for a period of time will make a difference. People can wet their clothes or spray themselves with water. And absolutely staying hydrated is key. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine and covering up when out and about, if you can't avoid it. And then the old adage of checking in on friends and family and particularly those people who are more vulnerable.
Krista Milne: Don’t forget your pets. Our pets suffer in the heat, so they need, like children, lots of water and a cool place to go as well.
Michael Nolan: One of the things that was always an issue with my parents being in that sort of danger bracket for heat waves was that they always said, we'll turn off the air conditioning at night and we'll just open the windows and call the house down. But the temperatures have got higher, the minimum temperatures have got higher and they just don't get the relief to the household that they're used to and therefore their body doesn't get the reprieve and it was such a process to change their minds and I think that's part of the challenge of dealing with people and habits and it's a significant change across society, so the work you're doing is both timely and powerful. So, thank you very much for your time and efforts in this space and all of your teams and I hope that every city has Chief Heat Officers in the future.
Tiffany Crawford: Thanks.
Krista Milne: Thanks so much for having us on your podcast.
Maria Rampa: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Engineering Reimagined.
It’s encouraging to hear the initiatives Krista and Tiffany are working on to protect Melburnians and create a cooler, greener city. Wouldn’t it be great for all cities and regions around the world to adopt similar approaches?
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Until next time, thanks for listening.