Cooling school playgrounds to counter climate change impacts

As part of a project to cool school playgrounds, environmental organisation Greening Australia and Western Sydney University have released a study revealing some of the most heat-vulnerable schools in the Sydney Basin.

As part of its Cooling the Schools program, Greening Australia commissioned Western Sydney University to capture location-specific measurements at 100 schools from Western Sydney’s warmest suburbs.

“We all deserve the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors during spring and summer, but the urban heat island effect in Western Sydney makes temperatures unbearable, particularly for school children,” says Greening Australia’s Science and Planning Manager for the Nature in Cities program, Michael Vyse. “Planting trees is a sustainable and cost-effective way to provide shelter and natural cooling while also creating environmental benefits for local communities.”

To help identify the most vulnerable schools for the program, a Heat Score was calculated for each school by combining several measurements. These included average temperatures, percentage of shaded space, existing tree canopy, and the urban heat island effect. Socio-economic factors such as disposable income to pay for air conditioning, the number of elderly people, vegetation cover and a number of indices from the Australian Bureau of Statistics were also included.

The study found that on average, 18 per cent of school outdoor areas were covered by shade, with 14.6 per cent covered by trees and 3.1 per cent covered by manmade structures such as shade sails. The lowest coverage recorded was just 2.4 per cent.

“Many young people are anxious about the future prospects of a changing climate,” Vyse says. “Within the Cooling the Schools program, children will be planting trees themselves and looking after them as they grow. This is a collaborative process that empowers children to actively engage in weather and climate-related issues.”

Through the Cooling the Schools program, students will be involved in planting activities and also have educational opportunities linked with the curriculum to learn about the environment, climate and urban heat.

The 100 schools selected for the study consist of a mix of public, Catholic and independent schools spread across 60 suburbs in Greater Western Sydney.

“Heat in schools is a critical topic that receives attention from the government,” says Western Sydney University Lead Researcher, Dr Sebastian Pfautsch. “However, until now activities and funding programs have largely focused on what happens inside classrooms. Due to the impacts of climate change, outdoor heat has become a serious issue that must also be addressed.”

More information is available here.

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