Speaker Series 2024 #3 | Addressing Extreme Heat

Mar 2024

About the Session

The Speakers

Learning from Paris at 50 degrees

As cities around the world continue to grow, they face escalating challenges from the impacts of climate change, with extreme heat emerging as a critical concern. Urban areas, with their dense populations and infrastructure, are particularly vulnerable to the health, economic, and environmental ramifications of rising temperatures. The phenomenon of urban heat islands, where cities become significantly warmer than their rural surroundings due to human activities, exacerbates the urgency to address this issue.

The third Cities on the Frontline session of the year, jointly organized by Resilient Cities Network and C40, “Addressing Extreme Heat: Learning from Paris at 50 degrees” presented an opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities of managing extreme heat in urban environments through the presentation of a recent extreme heat emergency exercise conducted by the city of Paris. This session represented a new collaboration between the three organizations; R-cities, C40 and Arsht-Rock. We are combining the strengths of our respective organizations to most effectively serve our partner cities and communities in the field of heat related knowledge exchange and programming. Our speakers Pénélope Komitès, Deputy Mayor, City of Paris; Julie Roussel, Head of the Climate Change Adaptation Department, City of Paris;  Fanny Cohen, Ecological Transition Project Manager, City of Paris, and our respondents Owen Gow, Deputy Director for Heat Initiatives at the Arsht-Rock and Bushra Afreen, Chief Heat Officer Dhaka reflected on the important collaborative work needed to not only adapt to  current temperature extremes but also innovate to mitigate future risks.

To kick off the session, Deputy Mayor Pénélope Komitès delivered a keynote speech introducing the Heat Dome Exercise conducted in October 2023. Work that was done alongside the update of the Paris Resilience Strategy which has been ongoing since the year 2022, and that incorporates lessons from various past crises and includes a new focus on citizen involvement. She highlighted that the exercise spanned two days and involved an array of stakeholders, including the police department, firefighters, school children, social housing residents, and the press. The Deputy Mayor noted the challenges of conducting the exercise in an open setting with the general public and the press, which left them vulnerable to questioning. However, she expressed satisfaction with the designed exercise, emphasizing its role in strengthening urban resilience and crisis response by mobilizing diverse actors, fostering interaction, and generating new solutions for implementation and informing public policy.

Julie Roussel and Fanny Cohen followed the Deputy Mayor’s speech with an in-depth presentation on Paris Heat Dome exercise expanding on some of the more technical aspects. Through this presentation they emphasized the importance of realistic and science-based scenarios to sensitize city dwellers and outlined the objectives of the exercise, including collaboration among stakeholders and analyzing the impacts of extreme heat. Roussel detailed the exercise’s two-step approach, involving citizen participation in simulated real-life conditions across various sectors followed by a more controlled tabletop exercise. Fanny Cohen then presented the field exercise, highlighting its unique aspect of citizen mobilization. The exercise, conducted in two Paris neighborhoods, simulated various emergencies, requiring coordination with multiple entities, and involving workshops to sensitize participants. Roussel concluded by summarizing key lessons learned, including the need for enhanced communication and a risk culture, proposing future actions such as creating refuge networks and targeting support for vulnerable groups like homeless people during heat waves.

After Paris’s intervention, Bushra Afreen and Owen Gow shared some reflections on the Heat Dome exercise.  For instance, Bushra praised Paris for its commitment to extreme heat crisis management emphasizing the importance of Paris’s focus on keeping students in school during extreme heat events and suggested similar approaches be followed in Dhaka, where housing conditions and poverty levels pose challenges for providing a safe space for kids at home during heatwaves. She also commended Paris for its courage in conducting a comprehensive public crisis management simulation, contrasting it with regions where vulnerability is often ignored or hidden under the rug. Bushra stressed the importance of discussing weaknesses and vulnerabilities to build effective support systems, suggesting Dhaka could benefit from a similar exercise. On the other hand, and drawing from research in cities like Phoenix, Owen commented on the importance of Paris’s consideration of cascading and interconnected impacts in the Paris 50 degrees exercise, emphasizing the severity of multi-day heat waves combined with factors like blackouts. He also suggested making exercises like this accessible to other cities worldwide, enabling other cities to learn from Paris’s example, in the form of templates or smaller-scale versions tailored to local contexts through impactful hands-on learning. 

In conclusion, the webinar session provided a comprehensive overview of Paris’s efforts in addressing extreme heat and highlighted the importance of collaborative approaches, innovative strategies, and ongoing adaptation to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Deputy Mayor Pénélope Komitès, Julie Roussel, Fanny Cohen, and respondents Owen Gow and Bushra Afreen offered valuable insights into the complexities of managing extreme heat in urban environments and the need for proactive measures to enhance resilience. The session underscored the significance of sharing knowledge and best practices across cities worldwide to collectively tackle the growing challenges posed by climate change. As cities continue to grapple with the effects of rising temperatures, the lessons learned from Paris’s experiences serve as a valuable resource for informing future policies and actions aimed at building more resilient and sustainable urban environments.

Key Insights:

  • Addressing the lack of awareness surrounding heat risks among the general population is a priority.
  • Heat poses dangers not only at its peaks but also during extended heat waves before and after those peaks.
  • Groups facing vulnerabilities, including homeless individuals, those with pre-existing conditions, children, and the elderly, require special attention as they are most severely affected by heat
  • The impacts of extreme heat extend beyond health concerns to include critical infrastructure failures, for instance, for water or electricity, as well as decreased crop yields and biodiversity loss.
  • Building solidarity, trust and collaboration among a city’s network of actors through early and transparent planned exercises is key as it can facilitate faster crisis intervention in the future. These challenges must be tackled collectively.
  • Diversity in conducted preparedness exercises, such as role-playing and tabletop exercises conducted in Paris, is important as these complement each other offering a more complete understanding of the challenge at hand.
  • Conducted exercises and workshops around heat must rely on realistic, and scientifically accurate data to ensure their effectiveness over time.

Pénélope Komitès

Deputy Mayor, City of Paris

“We actually realize that we do not go through these crises alone, but we go through them in a collective manner, we overcome them in a collective manner.”

Julie Roussel

Head of the Climate Change Adaptation Department, City of Paris

“There is the concept of complementarity between these two exercises. It means that we learned different things that were key during this exercise, and it is this combination of teachings from the exercise on tabletop and the exercise on the field that helped us to improve public policies.”

Fanny Cohen

Ecological Transition Project Manager, City of Paris

“The idea was really to immerse the actors in a fictional bubble that was as airtight as possible in order to be able to observe the actor’s reaction and learn from it.”

Owen Gow

Deputy Director for Heat Initiatives, Arsht-Rock Resilience Center

“I think people learn by doing, people don’t remember by planning, and so I think the more that we can take something like this and learn from it and make a template that other cities can adapt and use in their own context, it’s really important.”

Bushra Afreen

Chief Heat Officer, City of Dhaka

“The simulation really is a shining example of Paris’s commitment to dealing with extreme heat, whereas, you know, many cities are still living in a situation where the government doesn’t want to acknowledge vulnerability or doesn’t want to show any weakness.”

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