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Report finds a sharp rise in heat-related health deaths in Europe

According to a joint report by the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) published this week, climate change is increasingly having an impact on human health.

The report found that, in the last two decades, mortality related to extreme heat increased by approximately 30%.

Over the past two decades, Europe has witnessed a concerning rise of approximately 30% in heat-related mortality rates.

Last year, European temperatures remained consistently above average for 11 months, marking it as a year of enduring warmth and recording the warmest September on record. Furthermore, in 2023, there was a surge in the number of days with extreme heat stress.

The data gathered by Copernicus and the WMO for the report found that Europe faced an unprecedented number of days with extreme heat in 2023, characterised by temperatures surpassing 35°C or 40°C.

During the peak of the summer heatwave in July, Copernicus’ report indicates that an estimated 41% of southern Europe experienced strong heat stress, potentially leading to adverse health effects.

In addition to the health implications of heatwaves, 2023 also saw higher mortality rates due to weather-related disasters. According to the International Disaster Database (EM-DAT), 63 people lost their lives to storms, 44 to floods, and another 44 to wildfires. EM-DAT estimated that the flooding in 2023 affected an estimated 1.6 million people across Europe.

The economic toll of weather and climate change-related events in 2023 was substantial, with losses exceeding €13.4 billion.

The authors of the report noted: “The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our generation. The cost of climate action may seem high, but the cost of inaction is much higher. In 2023, Europe witnessed the largest wildfire ever recorded, one of the wettest years, severe marine heatwaves and widespread devastating flooding. Temperatures continue to increase, making our data ever more vital in preparing for the impacts of climate change”.

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