9 July 2013 — A new report has found the temperature of Sydney suburbs could rise by up to 3.7°C by 2050 due to climate change and the urban heat island effect.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science found new urban developments, such as the many new estates on Sydney edges expected to house more than 100,000 residents, were prone to the greatest temperature increases.

“Interestingly, we found that overnight temperatures increased far more than temperatures during the day,” said lead author Dr Daniel Argueso.

“This has implications for health problems related to heat stress accumulation and at an economic level where the higher energy consumption needed to power air conditioning overnight may lead to higher power bills.”

The urban heat island effect occurs because urban structures can store more heat than undeveloped land. The heat is released during the night, leading to increased minimum temperatures. Urban surfaces also hinder evaporation and its cooling effect.

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The study, Temperature response to future urbanization and climate change, said that green spaces, trees and bodies of water were important design features for future development in the suburbs.

Changes to planning guidelines could ease the heat impact, said Dr Paul Osmond from the University of New South Wales Built Environment.

“Current research shows that along with other strategies green spaces, street trees and bodies of water can have a marked effect on reducing urban heat island effect,” he said.

“Not only do these help keep suburbs cooler, there is also a knock-on effect where these places gain social advantages through additional amenities and recreational areas. Quite often, leafy suburbs that contain a number of parks and bodies of water also tend to see increased real estate values. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

The authors said that while the regions most affected would be new developments, existing developments would still see increased temperatures, and while the research was focused on Sydney, there were lessons for other Australian cities.

Dr Argueso said more work was needed to show the impacts of climate change and the urban heat island on cities.

“We need to develop a complete profile of temperature changes for different cities taking into account their various urban expansion prospects and locations,” Dr Argueso said.

“With this information, we can provide an invaluable tool to help with the future development of Australian cities and the environment many of us live in.”