Climate change will also take a toll on Europe, potentially claiming the lives of up to 152,000 people each year by the end of the century if we don’t put a lid on the warming, a new paper estimates.


Image via Pixabay.

We’ve previously seen how inaction and a failure to rise up to the goals set upon in the Paris agreement would bear devastating fruit for people in the US — but the rest of the world isn’t safe, either. A new analysis performed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre comes to warn of the deadly effects a business as usual scenario carries for EU citizens.

Overall, the paper estimates a 50-fold increase in lives lost due to freak weather in the old world, from 3,000 today (mean average between 1981-2010) up to 152,000 by 2100. The lion’s share of these deaths, some 99%, will be reaped by heat waves. Unsurprisingly, Europe’s much warmer southern regions will be the most affected.

Toil and trouble, fire burn and Europe bubble

To get an idea of how vulnerable populations throughout the EU are to weather-related events, the commission analyzed disaster records from 1981 to 2010 in all 28 EU-member countries. They looked at the effects of the seven most dangerous types of weather-related events — heat waves, cold snaps, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods, as well as windstorms. This data was then applied to models of how populations might develop and migrate, as well as climate predictions.

The report assumes a business as usual scenario (as in no measures are taken to curb climate change) leading to an average global warming of 3C (5.4F) compared to 1990 levels by the end of the century. Under such conditions, they estimate that two-thirds of Europeans will be affected by one type of natural disaster or another by 2100, compared to the current rate of 1 in 20. That’s going from 5% to over 66% of Europeans.

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They estimate an average of “32 500 deaths [10 700–59 300] by the period 2011–40 (about a ten-times increase), 103 300 [48 300–179 300] by 2041–70 (about a 30-times increase), and 152 000 [80 500–239 800] by 2071–100 (about a 50-times increase)” due to weather-related disasters by the end of the century.

Coastal flooding will claim many more lives than today, estimates shooting from six victims per year to 233 by the end of the century (a 3,780% increase) according to the team. Wildfires will also enjoy an uptick in deadliness, expected to cause some 57 deaths per year by 2100, a roughly 140% increase. River floods are estimated to claim some 106 lives per year by 2100 (54% increase,) windstorms some 124 (20% increase). Droughts will also take their grisly toll especially in low- and middle-income countries, whose poorer overall agricultural techniques and nutrition put them at risk of food insecurity. The researchers explain that because “people in high-income countries have diverse diets (based on food from geographically diffuse producers) and guaranteed access to clean water for basic needs” there haven’t been any drought-induced fatalities in these countries during the observational period for the team to model on.

High heat

Water hose.

Image credits Guian Bolisay / Flickr.

But, they explain, “premature mortality rate due to weather extremes […] could become the greatest environmental risk factor,” with the worst affected areas being in Southern Europe. Heat-waves will account for “99% of the total future weather-related disaster death toll,” they add.

“The projected changes are dominated by global warming […], mainly through a rise in the frequency of heatwaves (about 2700 heat-related fatalities per year during the reference period vs 151 500 [80 100–239 000] during the period 2071–100),” the paper reads.

“Climate change is the dominant driver of the projected trends, accounting for more than 90% of the rise in the risk to human beings.”

The flip side of global warming is that cold waves won’t be nearly as usual, or as deadly. This effect, however “will not be sufficient to compensate for the above-mentioned rise in fatalities from other hazards.”

Alarmingly enough, these figures are just scratching the tip of the heatberg. Climate instability and freak weather will also have extremely pronounced indirect effects, such as promoting infection and disease in flooded areas, reducing access to clean water, food, and other resources, further compounding their cost in human lives. Overall, some 138 million people each year (27 times the numbers in the reference period) will struggle for access to “basic needs for human wellbeing.”

As 211 million Europeans will under heat waves by 2071-2100 each year (only 5 million did so during the reference period), the team also warns we should expect a sharp increase in cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory diseases. Mental health issues associated with weather-related disasters, such as PTSD and depression, could also increase.

“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, one of the authors of the study.

“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 paper “Increasing risk over time of weather-related hazards to the European population: a data-driven prognostic study” has been published in the journal The Lanced Planetary Health.