Heat kills an average of 489,000 people globally every year, the single deadliest natural disaster in most years. As temperatures rise, an additional 255,000 heat deaths are expected every year by 2050. There are huge economic costs too. The average global city is projected to lose 1.7% of GDP from heat alone, thanks to health costs, lost productivity and other effects, by 2050, increasing to 5.6% by 2100. Extreme heat also damages agricultural productivity, increases energy consumption, exacerbates air pollution, and tends to impact already-disadvantaged populations most. These effects are magnified in urban areas especially, where concentration of economic activities and built surfaces lead to urban heat islands.

However, the choices we make in how we build, manage and live in our cities can produce significant cooling effects, improving health, making cities more livable and equitable, saving energy, and saving lives. How people experience heat is influenced by more than just the climate. As the planet warms, our overheated cities can be cooled with smart infrastructure choices, like solar reflective roofs, walls, and streets; urban forests and green spaces; and permeable surfaces.

WRI, with support from Google.org, is working with cities and urban decision-makers to improve the uptake of “cool infrastructure” solutions. We work to understand the data needs of key stakeholders, develop data and tools to meet their needs, and assist with converting analysis to more sustainable infrastructure choices.

Our strategy consists of three elements:

Provide innovative data to fill gaps in critical information

We develop datasets capable of providing actionable information on extreme heat and solutions to more of the world and of answering questions important to stakeholders.

Build data analysis applications that enable insight and action

We provide fit-for-purpose information to decision-makers through understanding what information really matters to them and developing applications that provide locally relevant and stakeholder-specific insights to enable policies and investments in cool infrastructure.

Scale through communities of practice

We work with partners to deploy new data and insights applications across global networks of local governments, businesses and other urban stakeholders, improving decision-making at scale.

Cover image by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities