Asset Publisher
javax.portlet.title.customblogportlet_WAR_customblogportlet (Health is Global Blog)

Schools as Climate Shelters


Photo: Barcelona City Council


This article has been written by Mònica Ubalde, postdoctoral researcher, and Carolyn Daher, coordinator of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal.

If measures are not taken to mitigate the climate emergency, current projections estimate an increase of at least 2ºC in global temperatures by 2050. This increment will affect the health and quality of life of the population as a whole, but will have a particularly negative impact on children and older people, the most vulnerable groups in our society.

To address this problem, Barcelona is taking on the challenge with initiatives such as Climate Shelters. This municipal project will implement a diverse package of measures designated by the colours blue (incorporation of water elements), green (vegetation) and grey (creation of shade spaces and building works to improve energy efficiency) in eleven city schools.

Cities like Barcelona are preparing to address the climate emergency with initiatives such "Climate Shelters", a municipal initiative with interventions in eleven schools

Heat Islands and Health

The effect of rising temperatures is magnified, particularly in urban areas, by "heat islands", urban hot spots that occur in environments where natural spaces have been replaced by materials that absorb and store heat, one of the consequences of a model for urban and transportation planning that allocates up to 70% of the public space to motorised traffic.

The rise in temperature during the hottest months of the year has been directly related to an increase in deaths and the exacerbation of chronic conditions (primarily cardiovascular, respiratory and renal diseases as well as nervous system disorders). Heat also affects the physical and mental well-being of the population and has an impact on social interactions, cognitive function and physical activity levels. In fact, high temperatures are the natural catastrophe responsible for the greatest number of deaths each year worldwide.

The negative impact on our health of high temperatures can be reduced by sustainable urban planning measures designed to increase the availability of and access to green (vegetation) and blue (water) spaces, and to create shade and adapt the built environment.

In addition to providing cooler air, reducing temperatures and improving air quality, green and blue spaces also promote contact with nature and increase social interactions. All of these outcomes have significant benefits for the physical and mental well-being of both adults and children. The findings of an ISGlobal study have shown that children who grow up in homes surrounded by more green space tend to have larger volumes of white and grey matter in certain areas of the brain. These anatomical differences are associated with beneficial effects on cognitive function.


Schools and Schoolyards: Key Spaces for Health

School environments—their buildings, outdoor spaces, surroundings and neighbourhoods—are vitally important because proper management of these facilities can promote health and reduce harmful exposures that have a direct impact on children’s well-being. However, these facilities are often not designed with health in mind.

Consequently, schools present an opportunity for the authorities, which can transform these spaces and open them to the public. These new spaces can be used to combat ever more frequent heat waves, to provide a place where people can cool down, where children can play and engage in physical activity, and where local residents can relax and interact with the community. Particularly in densely populated cities where public space is limited, schoolyards could be an important resource for both the students and the community. Moreover, projects involving schools and school playgrounds are an equitable intervention because almost all children go to school and there are schools in every neighbourhood throughout the city.

11 Schools to Become Climate Shelters

The Climate Shelters project is an innovative initiative led by Barcelona City Council and funded by the European Commission (Urban Initiative Actions-UIA). The city of Paris has launched a sister project called OASIS, which will also adapt school playgrounds to climate change using solutions based on natural elements.

The aim of the Barcelona project is to transform 11 primary schools (one in each city district) to combat the negative effects of climate change by incorporating vegetation (green) and water (blue) into the outdoor environment and/or modifying the buildings (grey). Once the outdoor spaces have been adapted, they will be open to the public on public holidays, weekends and/or during the summer months. The project for each school will be developed through a participatory process involving the schools.

An ISGlobal team of researchers and specialists, working with the city’s Public Health Agency, will be responsible for evaluating the results of these interventions and determining whether they have had the desired effects, such as changes in temperature, humidity and air quality. The team will also assess the impact on health and well-being of any changes that occur. For example, the children’s attention span and physical activity levels will be assessed before and after the intervention, as will the overall use of the social spaces and interactions between students and other users.

An ISGlobal team, working with the city’s Public Health Agency, will be responsible for evaluating the results of these interventions and determining whether they have had the desired effects, such as changes in temperature, humidity and air quality

This innovative project will allow us to test the various measures undertaken to effect change and find effective solutions that can be reproduced both locally and across Europe. The results of our assessment will help to identify which adaptations have generated the best results and which interventions could be reproduced in the future.

The participating schools are:

  • Sant Martí: L’Escola Vila Olímpica (project' partner)
  • Ciutat Vella: Escola Cervantes
  • L’Eixample: Escola Els Llorers
  • Sants-Montjuïc: Escola Ramon Casas
  • Les Corts: Escola Ítaca
  • Sarrià – Sant Gervasi: Escola Poeta Foix
  • Gràcia: Escola Rius i Taulet
  • Horta-Guinardó: Escola Font d’enFargas
  • Nou Barris: Institut Escola Antaviana
  • Sant Andreu: Escola Can Fabra
  • Sant Martí: Escola Poble Nou


More information