Chief Heat Officers: The experts tasked with mitigating urban heat

·3-min read
Cities such as Athens, Phoenix and Freetown have all recently appointed Chief Heat Officers.

To tackle the challenges of high temperatures in urban areas, several cities around the world have decided to appoint Chief Heat Officers. Miami, Phoenix, Athens and Freetown are the first global cities to have CHOs. Now, they will be heading to COP26 in Glasgow to present this new role, which proves that global warming is now very much on the agenda.

To respond to climate-related issues in urban areas, several cities around the world have appointed Chief Heat Officers. These heat experts are responsible for strategies to mitigate heat waves in cities.

October 21, the city of Freetown in Sierra Leone appointed Eugénia Kargbo as its Chief Heat Officer -- a first in Africa. Her mission is to fight against rising temperatures in the urban area. And 34-year-old Eugénia Kargbo is the third person worldwide to take on the role of Chief Heat Officer.

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 Chief Heat Officer at the end of April 2021, when Jane Gilbert, the metropolis' former chief resilience officer, stepped into this new position. In July 2021, 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 heading up "an Office of Heat Response and Mitigation."

The office has been approved by Phoenix City Council and the position is publicly funded, unlike in Miami where the chief heat officer position is 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 recognized 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 livability," said the city's mayor, Kate Gallego.

Reducing inequalities linked to rising temperatures

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

"In Miami-Dade County, we know heat," said Mayor of the city, 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," she said.

Indeed, Jane 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 Chief Heat Officers -- from Miami, Athens and Freetown -- will be present at COP26 in Glasgow, Thursday, November 11 at 2 p.m. to talk about their role and the burning issues that they face.

A previous version of this article, published November 3, incorrectly described the role of Dr David Hondula in relation to the Phoenix City Council.

Louis Bolla

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