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Children play in a fountain in Brooklyn, New York, last month, when there was an excessive heat alert in the city. Photo by Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

Hot times, summer in the city: As rising temperatures turn urban centers into smoldering heat bubbles, cities are turning to technology like reflective pavement coatings and "cool roofs."

Why it matters: Climate change will keep making cities hotter, and municipal leaders are starting to acknowledge that planting trees, opening "cooling centers," and putting white paint on streets and rooftops will not be enough.

What's happening: A growing number of startups are crowding into the market for products to counter "urban heat islands," with experimental (and proven) technologies aimed at absorbing or reflecting surface heat on roads, sidewalks, buildings and other structures.

  • "It's really an exciting time," Kurt Shickman, executive director of the Global Cool Cities Alliance, a 10-year-old nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., tells Axios. "The concept [of using technology to offset the sun's energy] is not new, but we are seeing a lot of innovation in the space now. "
  • His organization — with 70 member cities worldwide, including 25 in the U.S. — is dedicated to "passive cooling" techniques, which don't rely on electricity (vs. "active cooling" like air conditioning).

While "cool roofs" have been around for more than 30 years, the technology is evolving rapidly, Shickman says: "For any type of roof you can imagine, there is a way to make a cooler version of it. That's really where the innovation sits on that side."

  • "A cool roof is one that has been designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof," per the Department of Energy. "Cool roofs can be made of a highly reflective type of paint, a sheet covering, or highly reflective tiles or shingles."

On the pavement side, the market has "really only been around for about a decade — it's a very young market," Shickman says.

  • Cool pavement is "a water-based asphalt treatment that is applied on top of the existing asphalt pavement," per the city of Phoenix, which is doing the largest U.S. demonstration of the technology and will present its findings virtually on Sept. 14.
  • "It's made with asphalt, water, an emulsifying agent (soap), mineral fillers, polymers and recycled materials," a city website explains. "It contains no harmful chemicals and is compatible with traditional asphalt."

But creating cool pavements "is more complicated than roofs," says a report issued in July by Climate Central. "In cities with urban canyons, the sunlight may not even reach the street level long enough to make a significant difference."

What they're saying: Whitewashing sidewalks and roadways is just the beginning. "We're seeing lots of innovation there, not just in going to a light-colored pavement — there's a wide variety of different ways you can actually make a pavement cool," says Shickman.

  • Those include using different colors and advanced coatings or sealants — some of which can make a roadway "30% reflective instead of 5% reflective."

Details: Cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tokyo are in the vanguard of using cool pavement technology to combat urban heat islands.

  • New York and San Antonio and Austin, Texas, are in discussions about it, per Shickman.

Globally, the Cool Coalition, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme, works to do things like reducing reliance on A/C by getting people to replace their air conditioners with heat pumps, which are more environmentally friendly.

Be smart: "Extreme urban heat is a public health threat, especially for individuals and communities that are more vulnerable due to health, social, economic, or other reasons," says the Climate Central report.

  • The report recommends everything from cool pavements and rooftops to solar panels, public assistance with energy bills, and, of course, planting trees.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on bold climate commitments

On Wednesday, September 22nd, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and energy reporter Ben Geman hosted a virtual conversation on the innovative approaches climate leaders are undertaking to reshape standards for sustainability initiatives in 2022 and beyond, featuring White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp.

Gina McCarthy explained the Biden administration’s recent environmental priorities, the importance of mobilizing different communities to fight climate change, and how the White House is incentivizing private industries to reduce their emissions.   

  • On addressing extreme heat problems: "I think everybody’s beginning to understand as the President tours the sites of wildfires and flooding and other really big challenges like drought, there’s this silent killer for climate change that’s called excess heat, that really doesn’t get enough attention."
  • On cross-agency collaboration on climate change at a federal level: “It’s an exciting moment where people across the federal government are working together in ways they have never done before, not just to tackle wildfires and droughts and flooding and heat stress, but also to tackle the challenge of how we motivate our business sector and send them all the signals you would want us to send that shows that President Biden is committed to achieving net zero in 2050, and knows that this decade is a decisive decade.”

Fred Krupp highlighted how companies must be held accountable to pledges to reduce their emissions, how some corporations are breaking with lobby associations to become more vocal about climate change (and others are not), and how he believes debates surrounding the infrastructure bill will play out in the near future. 

  • On how corporate lobbying has fallen short: “Right now, we don’t see enough corporations lobbying on behalf of the climate sections of the reconciliation bill. This bill that’s pending in Congress is our once in a decade opportunity to get something done on climate.” 
  • On public support for the infrastructure bill: “I see an enormous amount of support in the American public for moving ahead with a sort of clean energy economy that are going to create tremendous numbers of jobs, clean the air, make people healthier.” 

Axios VP of Communications Yolanda Brignoni hosted a View from the Top segment with GE’s Chief Sustainability Officer Roger Martella, who discussed how GE is following through on their ESG goals by investing in sustainable energy technologies. 

  • “We create some of the most technically complex and critical technologies the world needs, and we’re focused today on innovating these technologies on a path to decarbonization.” 

Thank you GE for sponsoring this event.

Scoop: Garland defends DOJ's handling of Jan. 6 probe

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland will tell the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday that federal prosecutors "are doing exactly what they are expected to do" in seeking accountability for the "intolerable assault" on the Capitol on Jan. 6, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Allies of former President Trump, including Republican congressmen, have criticized the department's treatment rioters charged with crimes, and sought to recast the insurrection as a righteous protest. Garland's testimony with be his first appearance before the panel.

Updated 47 mins ago - World

Police charge man with murder of British MP David Amess

Police outside Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, England, on Oct. 15. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

Police said Thursday that Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British man, has been charged with the murder of David Amess, a Conservative Party lawmaker in the U.K.

The big picture: Last week, the Metropolitan Police declared the fatal stabbing a terrorist incident, saying that they had found "a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism."