Science

Europe’s heatwave may have caused more than 20,000 ‘excess’ deaths

  • More deaths than expected due to the heat wave in Europe
  • Many deaths due to high temperatures may be underreported
  • Heat waves will become more frequent and intense in the future

Nov 24 (Reuters) – Summer heat waves in France, Germany, Spain and Britain have led to more than 20,000 “excess” deaths, a report with official figures said on Thursday.

Temperatures reached nearly 40 degrees Celsius or higher from Paris to London in 2022 and climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution group found that such high temperatures would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.

A heat wave in 2003 caused more than 70,000 excess deaths across Europe, mostly in France, and led many countries to implement measures such as early warning systems, asking people to monitor others and opening air-conditioned schools.

These and related action plans may have mitigated some of the impact of 2022 heat waves, but the death toll was still “higher than expected,” said Chloe Brimicombe, a heat wave researcher at the University of Graz in Austria.

“I consider this the most impactful heat wave since 2003,” she told Reuters.

Because authorities don’t directly attribute most deaths to heat, statisticians use the excess formula to provide an estimate, looking at how many more people died in a given time period than would be expected compared to a historical baseline.

Heat can kill by causing heatstroke, which damages the brain, kidneys and other organs, but it can also cause other conditions such as heart attack or breathing problems.

The World Meteorological Organization said this month that Europe had warmed more than twice as much as the rest of the world over the past three decades, while the Copernicus Climate Change Service said the summer of 2022 was the warmest on record.

France reported about half of the summer’s excess deaths in Western Europe, with a total of 10,420 deaths.

The number of deaths in England and Wales reached 3,271 over the summer, the UK’s Office of National Statistics reported.

Spain recorded 4,655 heat-related deaths between June and August, while the German health service reported 4,500.

Reporting by Juliette Portala; Edited by Gloria Dickie and Alexander Smith

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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