Future Spain: More trees needed in urban heat islands or more heat deaths

by Lorraine Williamson
urban heat islands

MADRID – As global temperatures continue to rise, cities and surrounding areas across Europe are grappling with the problem of “urban heat islands” – densely populated areas that are significantly hotter than the surrounding countryside.

Where trees and lawns used to provide shade and cooling, we now mainly see cement and concrete in cities. We are sweating on a terrace under plastic umbrellas, while the shade of a dense tree offers much more cooling. And all that while the summers are getting longer and hotter. 

Numerous studies confirm those observations and, according to Climatica, have shown that urban heat islands can have a significant negative impact on public health. There are more people with heat exhaustion and breathing problems in areas with high heat levels. Another negative impact is on the economic front as businesses and homeowners see their energy bills rise as they are forced to keep their offices and homes cool on hot days. 

A third of heat deaths can be avoided 

A study conducted using data from 93 European cities and published in The Lancet estimates that a third of deaths from the ‘heat island’ effect could be avoided if trees covered 30% of urban space. This also showed that most Spanish cities have a much higher heat-related death rate than the rest of Europe due to the ‘heat island’ effect. 

Related post: Number of deaths attributed to heat in Spain tripled 

In Spain, it mainly concerns the cities of Barcelona, ​​Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Madrid, Seville and Valencia. All of these cities have a fairly low percentage of trees, according to the study. 

Some Spanish cities have already started 

To counteract these effects, many cities are already investing in green infrastructure, such as trees, parks and green roofs, to make the temperature in urban areas more bearable. For example, Barcelona has set itself the goal of having 160 hectares more green in the city by 2030, not only more green, but also more natural green. 

ASSSA - health insurance in Spain

Madrid aims to plant one million trees by 2030 as part of a wider effort to combat the effects of climate change. These trees are planted in parks, along streets and in other public spaces. Together, they are expected to contribute to lowering the city’s temperature by up to 2 degrees Celsius. 

Paris, London and Berlin 

Outside Spain, Paris has committed to planting 170,000 new trees by 2024. The goal is to increase the city’s green coverage from 14% to 20% by 2030. The city is also investing more in green roofs and green walls that help to absorb heat and provide shade. 

Other cities across Europe are also turning to green infrastructure to combat urban heat islands. For example, London has launched a “Green Grid” initiative to create a network of green spaces across the city, while Berlin has introduced a program to plant trees on private land to help lower temperatures in urban areas. 


Despite the benefits of green infrastructure, there are also challenges in implementing it. One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of space in urban areas. Many cities struggle to find space for new trees and parks. There are also concerns about the cost of building and maintaining green infrastructure. In this regard, some critics argue that it might not be a cost-effective solution in the long run. 

Benefits far outweigh the costs 

Proponents of green infrastructure, however, argue that the benefits far outweigh the costs. In addition to lowering the temperature in urban areas, more greenery ensures better air quality. Furthermore, it reduces noise pollution and provides habitats for wildlife. More greenery in the city can also lead to fewer psychological problems and better cognitive functioning. 

Photo: There is no green to be seen on the new design of Puerta del Sol in Madrid 

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