New research by scientists reveals that making buildings and exposed surfaces more reflective can help reduce heat, especially in cities. Painting buildings white, for instance, is a technique that has been practised in the Mediterranean for several centuries to manage solar heat. Using more reflective road paving materials and roof tiles will also help achieve similar outcomes, according to the study published in Nature Geoscience.

Sonia Seneviratne, the lead author of the study, says farms should be left unploughed after harvesting the crop as it would help increase solar heat reflection, leading to lowered temperatures. Seneviratne is an expert on land and climate dynamics at Swiss university ETH Zurich.

While these methods will not decrease the rising global temperatures – attributed to climate change – they can provide localised relief, reducing heat by up to 3°C in the area.

Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and one of the authors of the study, notes that the heat reduction from these measures even by a degree or two will not only prevent fatalities from heat strokes but also reduce many other risks created by extreme heat including warping of rail lines and electrical outages from excess energy demand.

Sonia Seneviratne also suggests changing crop types to those that reflect more sunlight from their leaves. This could benefit European countries where harvests usually happen in August and are followed by intense heatwaves. Additionally, these measures will help alleviate the risks arising out of extreme heat conditions without causing any harm to the environment unlike controversial technologies such as spraying sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to block some of the sun’s rays reaching the earth’s surface. The latter can have serious global consequences impacting weather and climate patterns in various regions, which could lead to disputes.

On the other hand, the impact of simple solutions such as increasing the reflectivity of buildings, surfaces and fields will be localised and beneficial too.

However, at the end of the day, the focus should be on curbing emissions if one is looking at a long-term climate solution.