The suggestion has been made for Australia to assign names to heatwaves as a means of addressing the risks associated with high temperatures.
A new report suggests that Australia should adopt the practice of the Spanish city of Seville and name its heatwaves in order to assist communities in managing the increasing threats posed by extreme temperatures.
The report suggested that giving heatwaves names could contribute to creating a “heat culture” where societies can be better prepared for extreme temperature occurrences, similar to how they prepare for named cyclones.
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Rob McLeod, a policy manager for Renew, a nonprofit organization in Australia, wrote a report on his trip to Spain to study how cities are dealing with increasing heatwave dangers.
In 2022, the city of Seville in southern Spain implemented the practice of naming heatwaves as a means of raising public awareness about the dangers of extreme heat.
During the months of June to August in 2023, Seville experienced four heatwaves that were named Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao, and Vera.
According to McLeod, temperatures exceeding 45C persisted for a minimum of three days. The purpose of labeling heatwaves is to raise awareness of the severity of the situation.
According to him, cities in Spain are adopting a “heat culture” where individuals are aware of the necessary measures to take in order to be prepared for heatwaves. These measures include early cooling of homes, using shading, completing outdoor tasks during cooler times of day, staying hydrated, and checking on vulnerable community members.
McLeod stated that giving heatwaves a name has established responsibility for communities and government agencies to take necessary measures in safeguarding the public. This was especially important as the rise in global temperatures heightened the danger posed by heatwaves.
Urban planners in Spain were also striving to decrease the impact of the urban heat island effect – a situation where non-porous surfaces such as concrete and brick can absorb and radiate heat, intensifying extreme temperatures.
Spain is implementing additional measures, such as a project to update residences for improved cooling and establishing designated “cooling centers” with healthcare staff during extreme situations.
According to McLeod, heatwaves have caused the most fatalities in Australia compared to any other type of natural disaster.
The Bureau of Meteorology currently has a system in place to warn of severe and extreme heatwaves. These are defined as extended periods of at least three days with significantly higher than normal temperatures, both during the day and at night, for a particular region during a specific time of year.
The severity, occurrence, and length of heatwaves have already risen in Australia. Predictions indicate that this pattern will persist as the Earth continues to heat up due to the consumption of fossil fuels.
According to Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist and specialist in heatwaves at UNSW Canberra, the proposal of naming heatwaves is a good idea.
“Our climate is just as extreme as Spain’s. Implementing a naming system for heatwaves serves as a reminder to the public that these events are genuine and can have destructive consequences. This is similar to how we name cyclones.”
According to McLeod, Australia is also facing inequality in terms of those most impacted by heatwaves. Lower-income households are particularly affected due to their limited resources for purchasing air-conditioning or insulation.
He stated that Australia’s climate adaptation policy should prioritize addressing energy poverty and vulnerability to extreme heat.
Without implementing long-term and ambitious strategies to increase communities’ ability to withstand extreme heat, he stated that the difficulty will only increase.
In 2023, McLeod was awarded the Gill Owen Scholarship to visit Spain. The report was jointly published by Energy Consumers Australia, an organization that advocates for energy consumption in homes and small businesses.