Heatwave in Paris exposes city's lack of trees

STORY: Heatwaves in Paris have exposed the city's lack of trees.

Urban planning expert Tangui Le Dantec has taken to the streets with his thermometer

to measure the heat radiating off the asphalt.

This area of Paris – outside the Garnier Opera house

is one of many so-called ‘urban heat islands.’

There are not enough trees to provide all-important shade.

Le Dantec’s thermometer reads 56 degrees Celsius - that's 133 degrees Fahrenheit.

One minute walk away, in the shade along the tree-lined Boulevard des Italiens

the reading was down to 82.

Record-breaking temperatures in France have underlined the need to strengthen the

capital's natural defenses against heatwaves

which meteorologists say are intensifying because of global warming.

[Tangui Le Dantec, Urban planning expert]

“The temperature of the asphalt is between 56 and 58 degrees (133 and 136 degrees Fahrenheit), because it is a material that stores lots of heat. That's due to the sun and to the air temperature which currently is 36 degrees (97 Fahrenheit). These materials can store much more, which leads their surface temperature to be over 20 degrees (68 Fahrenheit) more than the air temperature. So in places the temperature that you feel is hotter than the middle of the Sahara."

Paris ranks poorly among global cities for its green cover.

Source: World Cities Culture Forum

Only 10% of Paris is made up of green space such as parks and gardens

compared to London at 33% and Oslo at 68%.

[Tangui Le Dantec, Urban planning expert]

“You can immediately understand what is going on when there are trees -- actually a group of trees, because a single tree cannot do much on its own, poor thing. So when you align trees creating dense shade, straight away you can breathe."

Paris City Hall wants to create ‘islands of freshness’ and plans to plant 170,000 trees by 2026.

It is also ripping up the concrete in dozens of school yards and laying down soil and vegetation.

Jacques Baudrier is deputy Paris mayor tasked with the green energy transition in buildings.

[Jacques Baudrier, Deputy Mayor / Ecological Transition in Buildings]

“In Paris, Schoolyard Oases account for nearly two hectares of vegetation over 100 schoolyards, so it is already significant. And then, we also make the streets greener. That's the 'Make your neighborhood beautiful' policy that I am putting forward."

However, City Hall's green ambitions have provoked a series of protests.

Le Dantec and other ecology campaigners say the local authorities have been felling scores of decades-old trees to make way for garden spaces.

They say that by redrawing the city's landscape and felling mature trees

authorities are countering their own ambition.

That’s because young saplings are more vulnerable to drought and less useful in fighting against heat radiation.

In April, tree surgeon Thomas Brail shot video of more than 70 trees being felled on the city's outskirts,

to make way for Mayor Anne Hidalgo's vision for a ‘green belt’ around the city.

[Thomas Brail, Tree surgeon]

“These trees had a role to play (in fighting heat and purifying air). They were in great shape, because at 50 or 60 years old, a hackberry tree or a plane tree is almost never sick, it is important to understand that. They are fully equipped to defend themselves from diseases, fungi and insects. And so we saw these trees being felled behind fences."