June 4, 2023

‘Act or fry’: How Paris is preparing for future 50°C temperatures | world

During the height of the heat, Parisians cool off in the fountains in the Trocadero gardens. – Photo: AP / Christophe Ena AP – Christophe Ena

The city of Paris is already planning to face a scenario where, with climate change, temperatures close to 50°C may not be a rarity in the coming decades. The City of Light report presents action lines to prepare for the worst.

Building plants everywhere is the cornerstone of a shift proposed by a group of councilors in the French capital to deal with future heat waves. The study, which was unanimously endorsed by the Paris Council, the equivalent of a city council, is the result of six months of hearings on the subject. The authors of the “Paris at 50°C” expedition, coming from different ends, made a total of 85 recommendations so that the city would not become uninhabitable in the future.

“We need to design another urban model,” the authors warn in the 240-page report. They noted that “the city of Paris has already implemented many measures” to reduce the effects of heat waves, but “the risk of Paris overheating and becoming uninhabitable in the medium term is real.”

According to projections by climatologists, the capital “could experience an average of 34 days of heat waves per year by 2080, compared to 14 days per year in 2010.” 35 per year.

Ongoing projects

In a city that is “particularly dense and mineral”, urbanized “more than 80%”, building materials (in the Parisian case, mainly stone, cement, asphalt and zinc) and human activities generate “an additional increase in temperature that can last up to 8 or 10 degrees Celsius compared to neighboring cities, especially at night,” confirms the mission, which is headed by ecologist Alexandre Florentin.

Council members welcomed the “revegetation” projects already implemented by Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo, such as “school streets” – 57 equipped or under construction so far – and “oasis patios”, with earth, turf and plants rather than materials. Synthetic or concrete, a total of 100 so far in Parisian public schools.

However, the authors also ask the mayor to “go further”, with “an oasis square for every neighborhood” and to replace parking spaces for cars and bikes with lawn. They demand that the city council cover the “most exposed facades” to heat with “low-maintenance vines”.

Zinc surface coating

In existing buildings, the mission recommends the development of “collective terraces” including water catchments, plants and renewable energy production. When this is not possible, because of the famous zinc roofs that characterize Paris, councilors require that structures that are “flat and not of national heritage” be painted with “clear paint”, and that thermal insulation be reinforced from the inside, including in historic buildings.

The subject is delicate given the French’s association with traditional zinc roofs – but it does contribute to the high temperatures. The socialist group offered to “consider replacing zinc roofing with imitation materials”.

The report’s authors also recommend “shading large squares and roads”, going so far as to suggest “extensive works in some of the mineral-rich squares”. Environmental activists, in particular the Torre do Triangolo, which is being built in the south of the capital.

“Favourable urban planning for urban heat islands has been carried out and implemented in recent decades and appears to be continuing today,” affirms Albert Levy, architect and researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The current Praça da República was built under his predecessor, fellow socialist Bertrand Delanoë, and is often criticized for its metalwork. “The development of the city only exacerbates the consequences of rising temperatures,” notes Parliamentary Mission Rapporteur Maud Lelievre of the Opposition (MoDem).

Swimming in the Seine

The staging of the 2024 Olympics has given a major boost to the Seine revitalization project – a summer refreshment option that councilors want to popularize. However, at the same time, they also recommend that “resources should not be spent on organizing large events or demonstrations”.

To prepare for “the possibility of extreme heat,” they recommend developing several “places of refuge” for residents: underground floors, parking lots, and broken subway stations, among others.

These recommendations could be incorporated into two texts currently being reviewed by the executive: the Local Urban Plan (PLU) and the Climate Plan, which must be submitted to the city council in June and July.