Seoul can look to Copenhagen for inspiration on combating heat problems

A green future could be part of the solution for the hot urban areas of South Korea. 

By Jeppe Højmark Mikkelsen and Hyun Joon Lee
Recently, Seoul has experienced  problems related to hot weather. On August 1st, Seoul’s temperature went up to 39.6 Celsius degree which was the warmest year in recorded history. People who live in urban areas suffered from the heat because of discomfort and the polluted air that follows when millions of air conditioners are working excessively.

Especially in urban areas like Seoul, hot temperatures become a serious problem because of the so called ‘Urban Heat Island’ (UHI) which means that the center of the city is significantly warmer than its surroundings because of cars, metros, air conditioners etc.

Map of heat difference and UHI in Seoul. Red: ~ 35 degree C. Blue: ~16 degree C. from


Even though the South Korean population has grown by an annual percentage close to the one of the rest of the world, the tons of carbon dioxide the Country deduces per capita has overtaken the world average.

One thing that could be done to combat the hot and smoggy summer days is to integrate more nature into the city as plants and trees help absorb CO2.

Copenhagen as the good example

Martha Marriner, Project Manager at State of Green, explains that Copenhagen is moving towards being a so called ‘Smartcity’, meaning a livable and sustainable, modern city which integrates nature into its construction.

“We promote Denmark as a green nation and facilitate relations in order to create a more sustainable world,” Marriner said.

One of the ways they do that is by building ‘green roofs’ also known as ‘living roofs’. A green roof is a roof partially or completely covered with vegetation and a waterproofing membrane.

Above you can see a video presenting the green roofs and the organization behind them.

The City of Copenhagen started a project in 2015 called ‘Urban Nature In Copenhagen’ to make the city a more livable place. The main strategy is to plant more trees, create security against excessive rainfall and increase biodiversity.

According to Ayfer Baykal, Mayor of The Technical and Environment Administration, Copenhagen has been inspired by the world’s leading cities and has since 2008 focused on integrating green roofs as part of urban development.

Picture from the green roof on top of the National Archives in Copenhagen

The ‘Urban Nature in Copenhagen’ publication states that by installing green roofs, the city can obtain the following benefits:


  • Temperature control and energy conservation
    Once the green roof is installed, it becomes easier to manage the temperatures inside buildings. Green vegetation on the roof helps to screen the heat from the sun in summer. In winter it stores heat inside the building.  By doing so, it helps save energy all seasons of the year.
  • Water management
    The roofs can store between 50 and 80 percent of the annual rainfall in Copenhagen. This means that the green roofs delay the water on its way to the sewer and by that prevents flooding.
  • Ecological benefits
    Plants on the roof have more than the functional aspect. It can be a cozy shelter for birds, insects, Wildlife or a place to enjoy nature for the people living in the urban area.


Copenhagen is planned to become carbon neutral by 2025. This will be good for the environment but also stimulate the people living in the city, as a part of the plan is to create green growth which promotes higher life quality.

Recently, Seoul city announced that they will set up 185 roof gardens by 2020 in order to reduce CO2-emission and energy consumption related to air conditioning and heating. It is a  trial to make the city a better place. There is, however, no long-term South Korean plan like ‘Urban Nature In Copenhagen’ yet.



This story is written for an audience in South Korea and could be published on