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Heat waves could kill over 150,000 Europeans a year by 2100

August 5, 2017

Climate research shows that the death toll from European weather disasters may increase 50-fold by 2100 if no action is taken to curb carbon emissions. Heat waves will account for 99 percent of weather-related deaths.

Bulgarien Wetter Hitze
Image: Getty Images/AFP/D. Dilkoff

The study published in the Lancet Planetary Health journal on Friday warned that deaths in Europe caused by weather disasters would increase from 2,700 deaths a year between 1981 and 2010 to 151,500 deaths a year in the timeframe 2071 to 2100.

The study also projected that around two-thirds of Europeans will be exposed to extreme weather annually by the end of the century.

Read more: Climate change could make South Asia too hot for human survival by 2100

That translates to more than 350 million people per year. By contrast, on average around 25 million people per year were found to have been exposed to weather disasters between 1981 and 2010. Exposure included anything from death and disease to losing a home.

"Climate change is one of the biggest global threats to human health of the 21st century, and its peril to society will be increasingly connected to weather-driven hazards," said Giovanni Forzieri, who co-led the study on behalf of the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy. "Unless global warming is curbed as a matter of urgency and appropriate adaptation measures are taken, about 350 million Europeans could be exposed to harmful climate extremes on an annual basis by the end of this century."

Researchers analyzed records of weather-related events in the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland during the 30-year reference period from 1981 to 2010. They then compared this to projections in population growth and migration, and future heat waves, droughts, floods and cold snaps.

Read more: Having fewer children: A solution for climate change?

The study was based on the assumption that there would be no drop in the rate of global greenhouse gas emissions and that average global temperatures would rise by 3 degrees Celsius (C) (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 from their 1990 levels.

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Heat waves still the main killer

The study found that deaths from heat waves were projected to increase by 5,400 percent and could cause as many as 99 percent of all weather-related deaths.

Meanwhile, coastal floods were projected to increase by 3,780 percent, wildfires by 138 percent, river floods by 54 percent and windstorms by 20 percent.

While climate change will naturally be the principal driver of weather-related disasters, accounting for 90 percent of the risk, the remaining 10 percent will be spurred by population growth, migration and urbanization, according to the report.

Paul Wilkinson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not involved in the research, said the results were very worrying. "Global warming could result in rapidly rising human impacts unless adequate adaptation measures are taken, with an especially steep rise in the mortality risks of extreme heat," he said. The study adds "further weight to the powerful argument for accelerating mitigation actions."

Read more: Climate change is making our summers more extreme

The study comes as much of southern Europe finds itself in the midst of a heat wave with several areas recording temperatures of up to 44C. Italy is seeing temperatures 10C higher than the usual average for this time of year.

On Wednesday, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) warned that large parts of South Asia could become too hot for human survival by 2100. The worst-affected region, which covers India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, is currently home to some 1.5 billion people.

dm/gsw (Reuters, AFP)