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Study explores power of green spaces in mitigating extreme heat

August 23, 2023 
By Greenbelt Foundation



Extreme heat events are predicted to rise in the Greater Toronto Area from 20 days per year to 66 days per year by 2050, leading to increased risk of heat-related illnesses and mortality.  A new study Health-Informed Heat Mitigation Approach: Case Study of The Regional Municipality of York introduces a novel framework that highlights the importance of greenery cover in protecting people from heat stress and building environmental resilience to climate change.

Enriching urban greenery cover is identified as a cost-effective strategy to mitigate the urban heat island effect and provide cooling benefits. 

The research used two residential neighbourhoods in York Region and examined the health impacts of heat exposure under two scenarios: expected heat exposure in a typical summer and expected heat exposure during an extreme heat event. The results showed that even short-term rises in outdoor heat stress can potentially result in higher mortality rates and increased health system use. However, increasing neighbourhood greenery cover can reduce maximum and minimum ambient temperatures and humidex values during heat waves. This reduction in temperatures can lower health-related risks due to hot temperatures and may lead to fewer heat-related mortalities and emergency department visits.

“This study provides a valuable framework to estimate the health impacts of extreme heat events and gives us insight into the economic benefits of prioritizing the expansion of greenery cover in urban areas,” said Ed McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation. “By investing in green infrastructure in urban spaces, we can effectively mitigate the impacts of rising temperatures and extreme heat events and build community resilience to climate change.”

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The model used in the study predicts population health impacts based on the historical relationship between heat exposure and health records. By reducing people’s exposure to extreme heat, we can see economic benefits in communities, such as reduced use of health system services, lower energy consumption, and increased productivity.

The study’s innovative framework also assesses the co-benefits of increased greenery cover, including improved outdoor thermal comfort, reduced energy consumption for buildings, and enhanced individual productivity. By applying the model to the case study neighbourhoods in Markham Village and East Woodbridge, the research demonstrates the potential of increasing greenery cover to mitigate the urban heat island effect. The report’s findings provide more insight into this emerging research field on the benefits of greenspaces on health. Along with future research and the increasing evidence of greenspace benefits, decision-makers can take proactive measures to combat climate change’s adverse effects to safeguard our communities’ health and well-being.

For more detailed information on the study’s methodology and specific results for each neighbourhood, please refer to the technical and summary reports. 


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