Meet Europe's first chief heat officer – The Agenda with Stephen Cole


During the summer this year, many countries experienced record-breaking heatwaves. Greece's capital Athens hit 44 degrees Celsius in July and homes were also destroyed by wildfires north of the city. Meanwhile, a small town in Sicily, Italy hit 51 degrees Celsius – believed to be the hottest temperature ever recorded in Europe. 

Determined to beat the heat, Greece decided to hire Europe's first chief heat officer – the second in the world – and The Agenda's Stephen Cole asking her about her plans.


"My job is to wake up every morning and worry about how to make the city more resilient to heat … it doesn't allow for a very peaceful sleep."

As well as being Europe's first chief heat officer, Eleni Myrivili is also an expert on urban resilience and climate adaptation, as well as a senior adviser for resilience and sustainability to the City of Athens.

After being elected to the role of Athens' deputy mayor for urban nature and climate resilience in 2014, Myrivili pioneered multi-million-dollar programs in equitable blue and green infrastructure development. The following year, she was appointed the city's chief resilience officer and, in 2017, launched the Athens Resilience Strategy for 2030 as part of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities initiative.


Asked by Cole how she plans to make Greece more resilient to extreme heat, Myrivili says education will be a key part of the job.

"First of all, raising awareness and making it clearer what the dangers that extreme heat phenomena bring along are for the populations of cities. We don't pay enough attention to that, and we don't know enough about heatwaves and how dangerous they are because they are what they call the 'silent killers.' They roll into cities silently and kind of secretly, and you don't see roofs flying or flooded cars.

"There's also a great amount of under-reporting for morbidity and mortality that is linked to heat, so we have to make all this much more obvious and evident then and educate both policymakers and the public about it."

Myrivili believes heatwaves should be documented more closely to look for patterns in a similar way to how other extreme weather events are treated: "Naming and categorizing heatwaves would both help to communicate them more clearly to people and link to policymakers with rolling out specific policies on how dangerous each of these heatwaves are."

Asked what practical measures she plans to put in place to alleviate the heat, Myrivili tells Cole urban nature is key.

"We have to make all of the surfaces of the city capable to [cope with] lower temperatures, and that means a radical increase of nature within cities, along with other things like technologies and materials, but mostly trees and water – we have to really, really bring trees and water into cities in a radical way," she said.


Wu Changhua, China/Asia director at the office of Jeremy Rifkin, joins the conversation to explain the cause of recent flooding in China, as well as the watertight plans to fight extreme weather in the future.

Daniel Quiggin, senior research fellow with the Environment and Society Program, Chatham House explains why 10 million people could die from "heat stress" and what can be done to mitigate the effects and save global food systems. 

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