The prospect of air-conditioned buildings to survive Scottish summers and city hospitals north of the Border turning away patients in heatwave emergencies may still smack of climate change scaremongering.
But as Glasgow basked in record temperatures this summer and city roofs started melting, it was feared the relentless march of global warming was creating “heat island” cities, storing up unforeseen logistical problems for the future.
One Scottish university has now established a Master’s degree course to look into the unintended consequences of climate change on Scottish cities and how the country deals with its impact. Professor Rohinton Emmanuel heads up the new course in urban climate and sustainability at Glasgow Caledonian University. He said global warming impacts now go way beyond polar bears stranded on melting ice caps.
“We have been thinking of urban warming in hotter places and I suppose cities in Scotland and other cooler climates haven’t really been mentioned, but our second climate risk according to the UK’s climate programme is overheating – flooding is number one,” he said. “The prediction for Glasgow for 2050 is the current London climate. London already has a significant over-heating problem. In 2003, maybe about 3,000 died. We don’t know how many people died last year. But that will be the norm for Glasgow in 2050 – and from the point of view of cities 30 years is not long.”
This summer’s heatwave saw Glasgow experience its hottest day on record year at 31.9C. At one stage a protective membrane on the roof of the city’s science centre started to melt. In London, hospitals had to adopt winter-style emergency measures, including turning some people away.
Large numbers of people fell victim to heatstroke, dehydration, exhaustion and breathing problems.
The prediction for Glasgow for 2050 is the current London climate. London already has a significant over-heating problemPROFESSOR ROHINTON EMMANUEL
Prof Emmanuel said: “What we are seeing in these heat-island cities is the unintended climate consequences of urbanisation.
“The effects of climate change are being amplified in our urban areas and the fact that more of us are living in cities makes it important that we try to tackle this problem.
“In London now in high summer it’s almost impossible to live and work in buildings without air conditioning. In 2003, more than 20,000 people died in Europe from the effects of a severe heatwave. Even in Glasgow we can have street-level temperatures of 40C.”
Scotland has designed its buildings to retain heat and they are “super tight” and well insulated to deal with the winter cold, but they are not equipped to deal with increasingly baking summers, according to Prof Emmanuel.
“We have to increase [the]numbers of trees, construct buildings in such a way that they are able to ventilate themselves, create public spaces that are climate conducive – shaded and so forth – so it will be possible for citizens to take advantage of the climate sensitive parts of the city even if the buildings are slow to change,” he said.
The two-year urban climate course is fully funded by the EU. It is hoped when students have completed their studies they will return to careers in urban planning, civil engineering and architecture and work to mitigate the serious impact of climate change.