Extreme weather ‘could kill 150,000 people each year’ in Europe by 2100 – expert comment

7 August 2017

Deaths from extreme weather in Europe could increase 50-fold by 2100 if no action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions or to reduce the impact on humans, according to new research published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The study by researchers at the European Commission Joint Research Centre estimates that deaths from extreme weather could rise from 3,000 per year between 1981 and 2010, to 152,000 per year between 2071 and 2100. This rise is predominantly associated with heatwaves, which would account for 99% of all weather-related deaths.

The researchers suggest that more than 90% of the rise in risk to humans is due to more frequent occurrences of extreme weather events such as wildfires, heatwaves and floods as a result of climate change. The remaining 10% is attributed to population growth and migration, especially in coastal areas that are liable to flooding. However, the authors noted that the study does not take into account the indirect effects on public health such as non-communicable diseases or pressures on health services, which could also take their toll on the population.

How much of an impact could extreme weather have on our health? What measures can we take to protect populations? Paul Wilkinson, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, commented:

“This paper by Forzieri et al provides further evidence on the possible future impact of extreme weather on the European population under climate change.  It concludes that 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. 

“While the analysis only considered extreme events, and assumed no reduction in human vulnerability over time from adaptation, it is yet another reminder of the exposures to extreme weather and possible human impacts that might occur if emissions of greenhouse gases continue unabated.  It adds further weight to the powerful argument for accelerating mitigation actions to protect population health.”