Who are Chief Heat Officers and what do they do?

DailyStar || Shining BD

Published: 4/25/2024 9:08:42 AM

Bushra Afreen, the Chief Heat Officer (CHO) for North Dhaka, has recently come under intense scrutiny and online trolling amidst a surge in heatwaves across the city. After her recent remarks in some interviews, Afreen has become a target of online trolling, with many questioning the necessity of a CHO position in the city. However, Dhaka is not the only city with this unique public official role. So, who are Chief Heat Officers, and what are they supposed to do?


Origins of the position

A chief heat officer is a municipal public servant focused on combating the dangers of extreme heat in urban environments and reducing the urban heat island effect. This role emerged in the early 2020s as a proactive measure to address climate change-related heat risks in cities. 

Chief Heat Officers are not government-appointed roles in the traditional sense. Instead, they are often appointed by local officials who prioritise heat action within their city governments. Mayors or other leaders create the officer position and allocate resources to address the impacts of extreme heat.

The role of CHOs has been developed and promoted by the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, which aims to pilot a CHO on each continent. The foundation collaborates with the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance (EHRA) to support the activities and goals of CHOs. The role was created to help cities respond to the growing threat of extreme heat waves, which are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

Early CHOs were appointed in cities like Los Angeles, Miami-Dade County, Melbourne, Athens, and Freetown. The position has since expanded to other cities across the globe, indicating a broader recognition of the need for specialised efforts to combat urban heat.

Role of a Chief Heat Officer

According to the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, Chief Heat Officers coordinate city-wide responses to extreme heat and devise strategies to reduce risks. They have a range of responsibilities, starting with raising public awareness about the dangers of heatwaves and educating people on how to stay safe. This is done through community events, public service announcements, and media campaigns.

They also identify vulnerable areas in the city, mapping neighbourhoods at the highest risk from extreme heat and prioritising them for targeted mitigation efforts. This focus allows for more effective resource allocation, especially in communities with high-risk populations.

Chief Heat Officers work on implementing long-term strategies by collaborating with city officials, community groups, and private sector partners. Their efforts include planting trees, setting up cooling centres, and increasing shade in public spaces to combat the urban heat island effect.

Another key responsibility is coordinating emergency responses during heatwaves. Chief Heat Officers work with emergency services, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders to ensure a cohesive and effective response to extreme heat, prioritizing the health and safety of residents.

Prominent Chief Heat Officers

Since the inception of the Chief Heat Officer (CHO) role, several individuals have made significant contributions to combating extreme heat and gained recognition for their efforts. Eleni Myrivili is among these notable figures, serving as the United Nations Human Settlements Programme's Chief Heat Officer while also holding the position of Chief Resilience Officer for the City of Athens. Her work is instrumental in developing strategies for heat mitigation at both local and global levels.

In Miami, Florida, Jane Gilbert has distinguished herself as a dedicated Chief Heat Officer. She has been instrumental in promoting urban resilience through a variety of initiatives, focusing on reducing the risks posed by extreme heat. Gilbert's efforts include increasing green spaces and improving community awareness about the dangers of heat waves.

Another prominent CHO is Eugenia Kargbo, who serves in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Kargbo's role is particularly noteworthy for its focus on urban heat mitigation in a developing context. She addresses the unique challenges that cities like Freetown face due to rapid urbanisation and limited resources, implementing innovative solutions to reduce the urban heat island effect and protect the city's most vulnerable residents.

Shining BD