Extreme weather to result in 152,000 deaths each year by 2100
Weather-related deaths in Europe could increase by 50 times to 152,000 each year by the end of this century if no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
That is according to a report published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, which shows a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to climate change could expose around two-thirds of Europeans to weather extremes.
This would mark a sharp increase on the 5% exposed from 1981-2010, with global warming expected to account for more than 90% of the rise in risk to humans – mainly through heatwaves.
“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,” report co-author, Dr Giovanni Forzieri, said.
"Unless global warming is curbed as a matter of urgency and appropriate measures are taken, about 350 million Europeans could be exposed to harmful climate extremes on an annual basis by the end of the century.”
The study, funded by the European Commission, identified heatwaves, cold spells, wildfires, droughts, floods, and windstorms, as the extreme weather patterns most likely to impact humans.
Under its projections, heatwaves could cause 99% of all future weather-related deaths, with fatalities increasing from 2,700 each year at the start of the century, to 151,500 by 2100.
Southern Europe is expected to be the hardest hit, with weather extremes becoming the greatest environmental risk in the region, resulting in more premature deaths than air pollution.
The researchers said that population changes, migration, and urbanisation could also increase the risk of death from extreme weather, which can have indirect effects through damaging infrastructure, as well as the ecosystem.
It was concluded that regional investments should be made to address the unequal burden the effects of weather-related disasters have on human beings, and their differences in adaptation capacities.
"The substantial projected rise in risk to human beings highlights the need for stringent climate mitigation, and adaptation and risk reduction measures, to minimise the future effect of weather-related extremes,” Forzieri concluded.
The authors of the study warn that it has inherent levels of uncertainty due to its use of observational data, and the fact that it does not consider certain factors such as the effects of multiple disasters striking at the same time.