Heat stress in senior citizens in the Dutch municipality of Houten: a climate adaptation gap?

  • D Piron

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


With climate change leading to increasing temperatures, adequate policy measures are necessary for preventing heat stress in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. This research uses the case study of the Dutch municipality of Houten for 1) identifying personal and environmental factors that contribute to an increased vulnerability to heat stress of senior citizens, 2) adding knowledge on the suitability of the climate change adaptation (CCA) gap framework for evaluating CCA strategies at the municipal level and 3) identifying lock- in mechanisms that contribute to the CCA gap in Houten.

Document analyses combined with semi-structured interviews with municipal stakeholders led to an overview on vulnerability factors for heat stress in senior citizens, to the identification of a CCA gap in the municipality of Houten and to the identification of barriers and possible lock-in mechanisms in this municipality.

The results show that ageing in itself leads to physiological changes that increase vulnerability of senior citizens to heat stress, apart from any other factors that might enhance this vulnerability (e.g. chronical illness, medication use or limited physical or cognitive ability). As people tend to stay indoors on hot days, effective cooling measures for keeping buildings cool are important. Most important factors for influencing indoor air temperature are the use of shading outside the building or reflective windows and the use of night ventilation. For heat stress prevention in public space, adding greenery that provides shade remains the most effective measure. However, in a municipality with a high percentage of greenery already, taking measures on applying adequate urban geometry or albedo of surfaces is effective in (re)development projects.

The four main factors that contribute to the presence of a CCA gap in Houten appear to be informing citizens on the health impacts of heat stress in the elderly and on actions that can help prevent heat stress. Furthermore, taking urban geometry and albedo of surfaces into account in (re)development projects and coordinating and facilitating cooperation between actors are important. Finally, taking a more integral approach on climate adaptation by appointing someone within the municipal organisation with an overall responsibility is a suitable policy measure.

Lock-in mechanisms can hinder closing the CCA gap by reinforcing policy stability. Lock-in mechanisms that are possibly present in the municipality of Houten are the institutional void mechanism, the adaptive expectations mechanism, the social contracting mechanism, the framing (re)production mechanism, the habituation mechanism and the learning effects mechanism.

The results from this research were used to formulate recommendations for the municipality to close the CCA gap and to respond to possible lock-in mechanisms hampering policy implementation. By identifying vulnerability factors of senior citizens to heat stress that are related to personal factors and to environmental factors, an integral overview was created. This can be translated to policy measures for different municipal departments and other actors. This research additionally shows the applicability of the concepts of climate change adaptation gaps and policy lock-in mechanisms at the municipal level.
Date of Award21 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLisanne Groen (Examiner) & Jean Hugé (Co-assessor)

Master's Degree

  • Master Environmental Sciences

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