Jul 10, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Extreme heat during Europe's hottest summer killed over 61,000, study says

Paramedics tending to a patient in Barcelona, Spain, during a heat wave in July 2022.

Paramedics tending to a patient in Barcelona, Spain, during a heat wave in July 2022. Photo: Angel Garcia/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over 61,000 people died from searing summer temperatures across Europe last year, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine on Monday.

Why it matters: The study's estimates reinforce the fact that extreme heat events, which are becoming more likely and more severe because of climate change, are among the most dangerous weather-related hazards, though their death tolls and destruction are often not immediately known.

  • The heat-related mortality rates across Europe last summer, which was the continent's hottest season on record by substantial margins, had not yet been quantified before this study.
  • The findings indicate that heat adaptation strategies adopted by European countries after a deadly heat wave in 2003 were only partially effective at preventing heat-related casualties during that time period.
  • That's particularly concerning, as temperatures across Europe are increasing twice as fast as in any other continent, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

What they did: The study's researchers analyzed excess death data collected fr0m more than 800 regions in 35 European countries.

What they found: They discovered that a person's risk of dying from elevated temperatures "steeply" increased with age.

  • Women, particularly those over the age of 80, were more likely to die than men, though men were more likely to die in younger age groups.

Of note: Physiological differences and sociocultural factors could have accounted for the death disparity between men and women, but the researchers also found that differences in the age structure of men and women could explain why more women died among advanced ages and more men at younger ages.

  • Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal had the highest heat-related mortality rates that summer, which were likely the result of extreme heat persisting in Southwestern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea that summer.

What they're saying: The researchers said the magnitude of heat-related deaths should spur European countries to reevaluate and strengthen how they track and respond to heat-related injuries.

  • "It's an indication to those countries that they need to review their plans and see what is not working," said Chloe Brimicombe, a climate scientist at Austria's University of Graz, to Reuters.

The big picture: Last summer also exacerbated drought conditions across Europe that threatened crops and helped drive a major spike in the price of agricultural goods in the EU.

  • The elevated temperatures also contributed to the continent's second-worst wildfire season on record, during which nearly 17,000 fires burnt over 4 million acres (1.62 million hectares).

What's next: This summer could be no better in terms of heat-related deaths.

  • This year, the effects of human-caused climate change and global warming are coinciding with an El Niño event, and new global temperature records have already been set.
  • In April, Western Europe and Northwest Africa were stuck by an early season heat wave that would have been "almost impossible" without the effects of human-caused warming.

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