Under a global warming scenario of three degrees Celsius and no adaptation measures, the number of deaths from extreme heat in Europe could reach 90,000 per year by 2100. With a rise of 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, the projection is 30,000 deaths annually, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) said in its latest report.
The European Environmental Agency warns that unprecedented heatwaves, as seen this year, are the greatest direct climate-related health threat to Europe’s population. A week ago the World Meteorological Organization said that Europe is warming the fastest of all continents.
Heat-health action plans, urban greening, better building design and adjusting working times can contribute to the protection of the most vulnerable groups in society, according to an EEA report Climate change as a threat to health and well-being in Europe: focus on heat and infectious diseases.
The agency said that the time is now to move from planning to action and to improve awareness among public health and healthcare practitioners to make Europe’s population more resilient.
Ove the last 30 years the largest increase in vulnerability was observed in central and southern Europe
Vulnerability to heat exposure associated with aging, prevalence of diseases and urbanization is highest in northern Europe, while between 1990 and 2019 the largest increase in vulnerability was observed in central and southern Europe.
EEA said there is no consistent reporting of the mortality in Europe. According to information held by various databases, heatwave events are responsible for 86-91% of fatalities caused by weather- and climate-related extreme events in EEA member countries (1980-2020), which corresponds to 77,000-129,000 deaths in total over that period.
The death toll from the 2003 European heatwave alone is believed to have exceeded 70,000, while at the time of publishing of the report, it was too early to have a robust overview of the deaths related to the 2022 heatwaves, the agency added.
Spain recorded 4,600 deaths this summer
However, in June, July, and August, Spain alone recorded over 4,600 deaths attributable to temperatures exceeding 40 degrees. In Germany, in July, 9,130 (or 12%) more deaths were recorded than the median of the years 2018 to 2021 for the month. In Portugal, over 1,000 extra deaths were reported by July 18, while in the Netherlands, in week 29, the authorities recorded 559 non-COVID-19 excess deaths compared with the previous five years.
EEA warns that nearly half of hospitals and schools in European cities are in areas with strong urban heat island effects (more than two degrees higher), meaning that their vulnerable users and staff are exposed to high temperatures.
Interventions should prioritize vulnerable groups (e.g. elderly, children, those in poor health and outdoor workers) and facilities (e.g. hospitals and schools), as well as people particularly exposed to heat, the report reads.