A new modeling study suggests that premature deaths could be decreased by planting more trees. Higher temperatures in European cities have been linked to one-third of premature deaths during the summer of 2015. The study, published in The Lancet, shows that increasing tree cover in urban areas could decrease this number by as much as 30%. The study also found that temperatures in urban areas decreased by 0.4 degrees during the summer months.
Tamar Lungman, lead author at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, said this study is the largest of its kind, and the first to look specifically at premature mortality caused by higher temperatures in urban areas. Furthermore, it’s already known that higher temperatures in urban environments often lead to negative health effects, cardiorespiratory failure, and hospital admission among them, sometimes resulting in death. A number of these deaths could be prevented simply by increasing tree cover.
The main goal of the study was to advise local policymakers on the benefits of integrating green infrastructure into urban planning to promote more resilient, healthy, and sustainable urban environments, as well as contribute to climate change mitigation. Of 6,700 deaths attributed to heat in Europe in 2015, one-third, 2,644 lives, could have been spared by increasing urban tree cover by up to 30%.
The author of the study has admitted to limitations with it, as it could not be conducted in a more recent year because of the unavailability of population data. In addition, a US dataset was used for the cooling model instead of a European data set. Europe experiences more extreme temperature fluctuations due to climate change, making this increasingly urgent. While currently more deaths are caused by cold conditions, the prognosis estimated based on current emissions is that heat will cause a larger burden of illness and death over the next decade.
Urban heat islands- areas where heavy modification of landscapes (i.e. the removal of vegetation and pouring of asphalt) have occurred show higher temperatures than the surrounding countryside because materials such as asphalt and concrete absorb and trap heat. Increased temperatures in cities will continue to spike as emissions continue to rise, exacerbating climate change. Over the past decade, It has become increasingly urgent that cities adopt sustainable environmental practices.