A new report, Extreme heat resilience: lessons from Spain for Australia, shows what Spain is doing to combat extreme heat and what approaches Australia can use and learn from.
The most important way to reduce the threat of more extreme heatwaves is by reducing the emissions that are driving climate change. But Australia, like Spain, also needs to act to reduce the impacts of heatwaves on the community.
Spain has implemented a wide range of responses and activities to help its population adapt to extreme heat events. One of the most important measures has been improving public awareness and communication on the dangers of heatwaves. Other key measures include retrofitting housing, reducing ‘urban heat island’ effects, improving health systems, and local emergency heatwave responses.
Report author, Rob McLeod, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Renew, travelled to Spain to conduct the research. This was made possible thanks to funding awarded as part of Energy Consumers Australia’s 2023 Gill Owen Scholarship.
Report key findings
- Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more severe. Spain’s exposure to extreme heat is increasing due to climate change and cities are experiencing more frequent heatwaves.
- Rising energy costs and challenges to the energy system have impacted resilience to heatwaves.
- Spain has adapted to heatwaves, but further adaptation is required to avoid significant health impacts.
- A wide range of responses and activities is needed to adapt to extreme heat events. Key measures considered include retrofits of homes, reduction of urban heat island effects, improved infrastructure, improved health systems, public communications, and strategies for immediate heatwave responses.
- Addressing energy poverty and vulnerability to extreme heat should be central to adaptation.
- Public awareness and communication are important. Ensuring public awareness of heatwave adaptation and education on steps available to reduce risks are critical to promote buy-in and active participation in a ‘heat culture’.
- Strategic governance, data and frameworks are important in Spain’s response to heatwave risk.
- Social programs and responses can provide lessons for Australia, including the development of Australian programs seeking to build community resilience to extreme heat.
Recommendations and lessons for Australia
- Australia’s National Adaptation Plan must address the risk of increasingly extreme heat events.
- Australia should adopt a system of naming heatwaves to raise public awareness, and adopt a framework for alerts and communications that builds on Seville’s heatwave naming approach.
- The needs of vulnerable communities and households should be at the centre of Australia’s heatwave response.
- Australia should extend policies to improve the resilience and energy efficiency of homes.
- Australia’s response should not depend solely on air conditioning, because dependence on air conditioning is not resilient to energy price increases, energy poverty, blackouts, or other external pressures on energy systems, and future temperature increases will put further pressure on energy systems where air conditioning is a primary response to heat. Other measures to improve resilience must form part of Australia’s strategy.
- Australia should measure and assess the resilience of cities and communities to extreme heat.
About the Gill Owen Scholarship
The Gill Owen Scholarship supports an individual to travel internationally to research innovative ideas and initiatives that will be relevant to improving outcomes for consumers in the Australian energy market. Gill Owen was a respected policy advocate for consumers and an inaugural Director of the Energy Consumers Australia Board. Gill passed away in August 2016 and Energy Consumers Australia has created an annual scholarship in her name.
You can find out more about the Gill Owen Scholarship here.
Renew is a member-based non-profit organisation providing expert, independent advice and sustainable solutions to households, government, and industry across Australia. Renew leads the national Climate Resilient Homes campaign.