Barcelona, Spain

2023-09-28 10:44:19

Climate Shelters in Schools: adapting schools to climate change through green, blue and grey solutions



  • Population size: 1650457
  • Population Growth Rate(%): 1.00
  • Surface Area ( 102.2
  • Population Density (people/ 16021.3
  • GDP Per Capita (U.S.$): 37980
  • GINI Index: 0.3
  • Main Source of Prosperity: services


Climate Shelters Project aims to transform public schools into climate shelters for students but also for citizens outside school time, addressing the city’s lack of resilience to face heat waves foreseen with climate change. It’s a pilot experience where 11 schools (one per district) were transformed across a set of measures designed through a participatory process, introducing blue (aquatic playgrounds), green (greening playgrounds) and grey (shade elements and new pavements) solutions into the schoolyards. A Catalogue of Solutions gathers the suitable tested solutions ensuring effectiveness in the transferability of this initiative that guarantees its continuity by becoming municipal policy under the Let’s Transform Schoolyards Programme aiming at transforming all public schoolyards by 2030. The innovative approach of using existing public infrastructure and engaging education communities through both a participative process and a concurrent educational project, provides great impact in terms of climate change awareness raising and stakeholders benefiting, improving the city’s resilience easily, quickly and at a low cost.




The initiative follows the Barcelona Climate Plan: a cross-departmental plan incorporating 242 measures until 2030 to mitigate climate change effects, promote climate justice and boost citizen participation, including improvement of thermal comfort in the city’s public spaces to protect health especially of the most vulnerable groups. It is linked to SDG 13, 3, 11 and 4 and meets the Paris Agreement regarding support to build resilience to face climate change.




Pursuing Barcelonas Climate Plan, the initiative addresses the lack of climate resilience to face the more recurrent heat waves due to climate change. The challenge is addressed by transforming schoolyards made mostly of concrete or hard pavements to be used as sports courts, without shadows nor green spaces, into climate shelters with greener sitting areas, water elements and more dynamic playgrounds for the benefit of the students and community, through a participatory methodology that can be replicated across the city.


With the pilot becoming a municipal policy under the Lets Transform the Schoolyards Programme, all public schoolyards will be transformed by 2030, incorporating the Climate Shelters pilot experience criteria and methodologies. With a 10-15 schoolyards/year rate and under four guidelines: space greening and naturalization, shade generation, soft pavement for gardening and playing elements to maximize shared and versatile play, including natural materials and water fountains. Its estimated budget is 240.000per schoolyard and a total annual budget of 3.6M.


The innovation is fourfold: (1) a new idea for climate adaptation: exploitation of open spaces in the city by converting schoolyards to climate shelters; (2) a new method for climate-friendly urban planning: testing innovative solutions to transform the schoolyards and adapting buildings to heat including the effective solutions into a catalogue for future interventions to mitigate heat; (3) a new governance model: co-design and participatory process with and for the local society, during the school selection through open call, the selection of solutions applied in each space and a collective approach to the maintenance of the space; (4) multipurpose use of infrastructures: schoolyards are open to the public in the event of heat waves and during the evenings and weekends for leisure purposes.


Inter-departmental cooperation was needed within the city council entities responsible for the innovative nature-based solutions, water systems and building materials; also specific scientific partners took part in the use of environmental technologies for measurement and evaluation. In addition, the More Sustainable Schools Programme intervened to design the pedagogic programme and the Education Department for the management of the open schoolyards; Urban Ecologys Communication Department also had a key role.


The partnership led by Barcelona City Council included public entities: CEB (Barcelona Education Consortium) in charge of the works in schools; BCASA (Barcelona Water Cycle) in charge of water solutions; ASPB (Barcelona Public Health Agency) to monitor the quality impact evaluation and ICTA from a public university of Barcelona was in charge of the buildings’ categorization; while private entity ISGlobal provided the quantitative evaluation (environment and well-being). A school was included as a partner to ensure the feasibility of the actions. 


Non-monetary resources included the shortlisting contracts for construction work operators to ensure timely and adequate intervention in the public schools, city council educators for the education community’s participation; Permanent Secretariat staff of the Urban Innovative Action, project OASIS in Paris and Constantinos Kartalis, appointed UIA’s expert for the project. Regarding funding, for the pilot experience, Barcelona municipality contributed 20% of the financing, the 80% was provided by the EU’s Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) Programme; while the legacy programme is 100% funded by the municipality.




Evolutionary, the innovation of the project was an evolution of already existing policies and their cumulative experience: the Open Yards Programme for the opening of school outside school hours already existed and a Network of Climate Shelters in public facilities other than schools was being created. Barcelona already had experience with participatory processes but were not involving the beneficiaries during the selection of solutions. Thanks to the project it was possible to improve heat resilience in the city while joining both networks and researching new solutions to create climate shelters through a new co-creation methodology.



The pilot achieved several outcomes, including: (1) the Catalogue of solutions with tested blue (water fountains and games), green (vegetation), grey (shade elements and soft pavements) and mixed (shade elements with vegetation) solutions to transform schoolyards; (2) the criteria for the open selection of schools; (3) the participatory methodology for the selection of the solutions to implementing; and (4) the pedagogical programme for climate change awareness. The main achievement is the initiatives incorporation as a local policy with high scalability potential in the city.


Data and indicators were used throughout the project by the scientific partners to ensure a comprehensive and integral evaluation. The parameters assessed include temperature, health and well-being issues related to thermal comfort, exposure to NO2, thermal sensation and environmental quality perception, assessment of the transformed space as well as students levels of attention and physical activity and playground dynamics including gender scope. All data is disaggregated by age and gender.


The intervention is focused mainly on the schoolyards which are transformed into climate shelters with greening and water solutions as well as elements to create shadows and playing areas. Also, some specific interventions were made in the school facades to reduce insolation and inside the buildings to generate crossed ventilation.


The initiative is directly affecting 22, 900 children (between ages 3 and 16) and 1.000 teachers during the school year, and more than 43.000 users outside school hours (according to data collected during summer 2022, from 12.000 users 63% were men, 37% women; 54% children and youth, 43% adults and 3% elderly).




Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for all