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Reducing the impact of urban heat islands

The national adaptation plan looks at the impacts of climate change with us now and in the future and sets out how New Zealand can adapt.

This story gives us an idea of what the adaptation plan looks like in our everyday lives.  It gives us a glimpse of how we can change how we do things to thrive in a different climate to the one we’ve had in the past. 

We all like the thought of a nice, warm island – particularly in the cold, miserable winter. But this kind of heat island comes with some big problems.   

One of the impacts of climate change is more heatwaves. They're felt more in urban areas because they absorb, produce and retain more heat.  

Vehicles and buildings generate heat, and the dark, paved surfaces that typically cover urban areas absorb heat. These surfaces also allow fewer plants to grow. This reduces the cooling effects of shading and evaporation, and worsens air pollution. 

The resulting urban heat-island effect can increase temperatures in cities relative to their surrounding areas. Heat absorbed throughout the day is then released in the evening, raising night-time temperatures and worsening the effects of heatwaves.  

Why the heat-island effect is an issue for people

Being exposed to extreme heat for prolonged periods puts stress on our bodies and can worsen health conditions. Heatwaves have widespread negative impacts on health, wellbeing and levels of comfort, especially for older people and those who may not be able to pay to cool their homes. Extreme heat caused by climate change is likely to intensify Māori and Pasifika health inequities. It can also increase prenatal health issues. 

Current and future actions

Building design, materials and urban planning can mitigate the heat-island effect. Planting more trees and using nature-based solutions for infrastructure help to cool urban areas. These simple and effective solutions are used around the world. They also have other benefits, such as:

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions  
  • enhancing mauri of land and water  
  • enhancing biodiversity  
  • improving human health and wellbeing.  

Over time, these strategies and other actions in the national adaptation plan will help to reduce the heat-island effect.  

Urban Ngahere scheme

Kāinga Ora’s Urban Ngahere scheme is a large-scale urban development in Māngere, which has relatively low canopy coverage* (only 8 per cent). Kāinga Ora is partnering with the community, mana whenua and Auckland Council to increase the coverage, reduce inequality and uplift the mauri of the Māngere whenua and people.   

Auckland Council’s Urban Ngahere Strategy also aims to increase canopy coverage across Auckland more generally to 30 per cent.  

*Canopy coverage is the total area of tree crowns projected onto the ground.  

Image: Kāinga Ora 

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