The consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly frequent and alarming, especially in regions like the Mediterranean. This has led to an increase in the risks arising from phenomena such as heat waves, droughts, and rising temperatures in cities.
The European COOLSCHOOLS project has been launched to design possible social strategies that can contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change and improving the quality of life of citizens and of children, in particular. The three-year study is being coordinated by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), and it examines the transformative potential of nature-based solutions in European school environments by launching various actions based on developing climate shelters in schools. In total, 16 partners are involved in this project, including European municipal councils, universities, research centres, social associations and cooperatives, and international organizations.
“COOLSCHOOLS aims to investigate the kind of opportunities provided by the projects being carried out in playgrounds and school environments in Barcelona, Brussels, Paris and Rotterdam,” said Isabel Ruiz Mallén, leader of this project and a Ramón y Cajal researcher in the UOC’s Urban Transformation and Global Change Laboratory (TURBA). The lab focuses on studying socio-environmental and technological urban changes from a critical and interdisciplinary perspective.
The actions taking place within the framework of this pioneering project aim to understand the factors and potential of these interventions for driving socio-ecological changes towards urban sustainability, climate resilience, social justice and quality education, and to make the educational community a driving force in municipal districts.
The cornerstone of these interventions is nature-based solutions. They make the most of services provided by ecosystems to meet the challenges we currently face, including climate change or pollution. For example, they look to increase green and shaded areas, use more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials or provide greater access to water.
Solutions for protection against the risks of climate change
In the specific case of Barcelona, which is located in the Mediterranean, one of the areas most affected by climate change, actions to deal with the effects of rising temperatures and increasingly frequent heatwaves will be studied with the expansion of green areas and shaded areas, and the installation of water fountains in school playgrounds and premises.
“The solutions that are being adopted aim to protect children against these and other risks arising from climate change, and to improve the schools’ adaptation to this new situation,” said Ruiz Mallén, who emphasized that the idea is to consolidate spaces in which students can “learn and feel comfortable” in a context of rising temperatures, and to minimize the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on these educational environments.
Other types of initiatives are also being carried out, such as improvements to play areas, more access to water and more sustainable furniture from various perspectives, including the gender perspective. “What we want to see based on the actions that are being carried out in these four cities is the impact that these interventions are having in terms of urban sustainability, resilience to climate change, social justice and the promotion of high-quality education,” she said.
A multidisciplinary approach
The researchers are going to study the combination of all these interventions from a multidisciplinary approach. As a result, they will take into account the impact on biodiversity of changes in land use, and also consider health, safety, and governance. “Starting this research will enable us to evaluate aspects such as the relationship between greening spaces in playgrounds and the students’ cognitive development, the increase in pollinating insects, and the access to and use of these climate shelters by the community, among many other issues,” said Ruiz Mallén. “We are also going to investigate the potential of changes in education. With all the knowledge that is generated from the different perspectives, we will be able to produce guides and applications to make the most of its potential both in terms of inclusiveness and improved wellbeing, and take advantage of learning opportunities in terms of climate resilience.”
In this area, the UOC research group will be leading the analysis focusing on transformation of governance. Its goal is to study and determine the conditions under which climate shelters in school environments can enable governance that leads to urban transformation practices which guarantee inclusion and power sharing for the different stakeholders.
These socio-economic changes in school playgrounds aim to cause social changes in urban districts and act as catalysts for change in homes and neighborhoods. Local governments, local cooperatives and other associations and social organizations are also involved in the project. “The participation of all these agents is necessary and crucial for achieving the objectives we are pursuing with COOLSCHOOLS,” said Ruiz Mallén.
COOLSCHOOLS has received funding of more than €1.5 million from the European JPI Urban Transformation Capacities (JPI Urban Europe) fund, in which the Spanish State Research Agency (AEI) is participating.