Chief heat officers: The experts tasked with mitigating urban heat

  • Climate
  • Tuesday, 09 Nov 2021

Cities such as Athens, Phoenix and Freetown have all recently appointed chief heat officers. Photo: AFP

To respond to climate-related issues in urban areas, several cities around the world have appointed chief heat officers. Miami, Phoenix, Athens and Freetown are the first global cities to have CHOs. These heat experts are responsible for strategies to mitigate heat waves in cities. Here are the details.

On Oct 21, the city of Freetown in Sierra Leone appointed Eugénia Kargbo as its CHO – a first in Africa. Her mission is to fight against rising temperatures in the urban area. Kargbo, 34, is the third person worldwide to take on this role.

As part of a strategy implemented by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, the city of Miami in the United States also got a CHO at the end of April this year, when Jane Gilbert, the metropolis' former chief resilience officer, stepped into this new position.

In July, Athens followed suit by appointing Eleni Myrivili as the city's CHO as fires ravaged the country.

The city of Phoenix, Arizona, announced in September that David Hondula, a professor of environmental science at Arizona State University (ASU), would be taking a seat on the city council to head "an Office of Heat Response and Mitigation".

Unlike the heat manager position in Miami, Hondula's role has been integrated into Phoenix City Council and is not funded by a philanthropic foundation.

This is a significant step, proving that cities are increasingly concerned about the issue and must take action. This summer, Phoenix experienced one of the worst heat waves on record, with temperatures topping 37.7°C for 114 days.

"Already, Phoenix is recognised as a leader in cooling strategies and support for heat vulnerable residents, and this investment is reflective of Phoenix's continued commitment to develop innovative solutions to ensure our city's health and liveability," said the city's mayor, Kate Gallego.

Reducing inequalities

While the primary mission of a CHO relates to the climate, the role also encompasses a social component.

"In Miami-Dade County, we know heat," said city mayor Daniella Levine Cava in a statement in April.

"As the impacts of heat grow, they are further compounded by hurricanes, floods and sea level rise. And we know extreme heat does not impact people equally – poorer communities and Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of the public health impacts."

Indeed, Gilbert's appointment seeks to "expand, accelerate and coordinate our efforts to protect people from heat and save lives", for example by developing "climate resilience hubs", where people can go in case of hot weather.

And it's the same story in Phoenix.

"Urban heat is a growing hazard for all our residents, particularly our most vulnerable communities," said city manager Ed Zuercher, in a statement. "David (Hondula) brings the forward-thinking approach for a sustainable environment for all city residents."

Some of the world's first CHOs – from Miami, Athens and Freetown – will be present at COP26 in Glasgow on Nov 11 to talk about their role and the burning issues that they face. – AFP Relaxnews

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