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How to build heatwave resilience –
A study of European cities’ preparedness

Europe is experiencing temperatures rising at twice the global average rate, and heat-related mortality has increased around 30% in the past 20 years.

Sweco’s analysis of 24 European cities highlights the urgent need for heat wave mitigation and resilience. Europe as the fastest warming continent, faces rising temperatures and heat-related mortality rates due to climate change.

Sweco’s report shows that some European cities are taking steps in the right direction to combat the heat, but major gaps still have to be addressed.

2023 saw a record number of days with extreme heat. At the current emission levels, the Global Carbon Budget team estimates a 50% chance global warming will exceed 1.5°C consistently around 2030. The escalation of global temperatures is hastening the occurrence and severity of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, whose effects are already being experienced across the globe.

The Urban Heat Island, UHI, effect exacerbates this issue, leading to significantly faster surface warming in cities compared to rural areas. These extreme heat events pose significant risks to public health, energy infrastructure, and economic productivity in urban areas. During the summer of 2022 more than 61,000 people died because of Europe’s record-shattering heat wave.

Despite these risks, heat-related concerns are often overlooked in cities’ climate plans and adaptation policies are lagging, especially when it comes to safeguarding vulnerable populations.

A new Sweco study highlights this critical issue, revealing that European cities are struggling to keep pace with adaptation measures for the escalating heatwaves.

2023 saw a record number of days with extreme heat stress.

2023 saw a record number of days with extreme heat stress. There is an increasing trend in the number of days with at least ‘strong heat stress’ across Europe

Adaptation and resilience practices across 24 European cities

To discover more about the readiness of European cities in addressing heatwaves, Sweco conducted a study of adaptation and resilience practices across 24 European cities, and six primary case study cities, analysing climate resilience policies and heatwave data. All of these cities are set to experience at least double the number of heatwave days in 2100 compared with 2020.

Insights from the analysis highlight the need for comprehensive heatwave response strategies.

While some progress has been made, there is still a gap in urban heatwave adaptation policies, especially concerning vulnerable populations. This is compounded by a lack of detailed data and vulnerability mapping across cities, hindering monitoring and evaluation of existing adaptation policies.

Europe needs to improve its adaptation to the effects of climate change, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA), which recently warned that extreme heat, drought, wildfires and floods will worsen and negatively impact living conditions.


European cities’ climate plans need to focus more on protecting vulnerable groups, by improving the cooling of facilities such as preschools, assisted living facilities and care homes. EUR 680 billion of the EU’s budget is allocated for climate-relevant measures during the 2021–2027 period, so there is funding available. It is now time for European cities to level up by implementing new methods that help cool cities, says Séverine Hermand, Climate resilience planning expert at Sweco, and one of the main authors behind the report.


Figures from the report

Sweco’s analysis of 24 European cities and their resilience policies and heatwave data includes in-depth case studies of six cities, and is showing how temperatures are expected to rise for each city from 2020–2100:

  • Copenhagen +160% estimated increase in heatwave days
  • Stockholm +150%
  • Oslo +140%
  • Rotterdam +130%
  • Brussels +130%
  • Helsinki +100%

Sweco has studied 24 cities: Brussels, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Madrid, Glasgow, Seville, London, Rome, Lisbon, Paris, Vienna, Barcelona, Geneva, Prague, Istanbul, Toulouse, Gdansk, Warsaw and Athens.

Heatwaves pose significant risks to public health and have a negative effect on infrastructure and economic productivity in urban areas.

Effects from extreme heat globally and in Europe


excess deaths (2000-2019) were due to heat globally


excess deaths/year across 854 cities in Europe.

37 %

of heat-related deaths (1991-2018) are attributable to climate change.

Europe is rapidly becoming both hotter and more urbanised at the same time, and its cities need to transform to combat this — it is not a problem that will go away.

“Heat-related concerns are often overlooked in climate plans, and that cities in Northen Europe specifically need to prepare better, as they are still designed to protect populations from the cold, not heat. Authorities and policy makers need to look at regulations and act to address heatwaves, this must be included as a key component in the green transition of our urban areas,” says Dr. Katherine Maxwell, Technical Director, Net Zero Cities, Asset Management at Sweco, and one of the main authors behind the report.

Urgent action is needed to mitigate heatwave impacts, build resilience, and create sustainable environments for all residents.

Key recommendations in the report

  • Invest in granular data:
    Increase vulnerability mapping across cities, with better monitoring and evaluation. This can be done by creating “digital twins” making use of GIS spatial mapping, and other digital solutions, for better heat assessment and management.
  • Enable innovation and co-creation:
    Design solutions at the building and neighbourhood scale to adapt urban spaces. More nature-based solutions, more green-blue infrastructure and updates of regulations for new and existing buildings.
  • Pursue transparent and collaborative governance:
    Cities must work together more to address heatwaves effectively. This requires investments in knowledge, data-driven heat management and joint planning for the organisation of dedicated team structures in a heatwave crisis.
  • Decide on a long-term vision:
    Authorities and policy makers must establish more efficient, modern strategies to protect vulnerable populations from extreme heat, to safeguard overall public health in general and to increase climate equality between groups in particular.