Climate Change

Heat-stressed: Europe warming twice as fast as global average, shows new report

Impact on human health huge as southern Europe saw record number of days with ‘very strong heat stress’  

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 21 April 2023
Photo: iStock

Temperatures across Europe are rising at twice the global average rate and this is faster than any other continent, confirmed the European State of Climate Report 2022

The findings of the report by Copernicus Climate Change Service released March 20, 2023 seem to be aligned with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had projected in its sixth assessment report — temperatures in all European areas will rise at a rate exceeding global mean temperature changes.

Last summer was the hottest on record across Europe at 1.4 degrees Celsius above the recent average, it said.

At least 15,000 people across the continent lost their lives specifically due to heat in 2022, Hans Henri P Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in a statement.

Of these, nearly 4,500 deaths were recorded in Germany and 4,000 deaths in Spain during the three summer months of June-August, he added. 

Adaptation and mitigation measures are required to address impact on human lives, the authors of the report noted. 

In 2022, Europe experienced its second warmest year after 2020, since the beginning of the 20th century, said the report.

The 10 warmest years on record for Europe have all occurred since 2000 and the five warmest years have all occurred since 2014. 

Annual European land surface air temperature anomalies for 1950 to 2022, relative to the 1991–2020 reference period. Data source: ERA5 and EOBS; C3S/ECMWF/KNMI

Seven months of the year, which include the summer months of May to August besides March, October and December, were up to 7-10°C warmer than average. In July, temperatures reached 40°C for the first time on record in the United Kingdom.

Most of western Europe saw heatwave conditions and temperatures in the United Kingdom reached above 40°C for the first time. 

The higher-than-average temperatures and a persistent lack of precipitation triggered a significant drought which, at its peak, affected most of Europe. 

Climate change has made extreme drought in Europe 20 times more likely, said the World Weather Attribution in a study released October 5, 2022. 

The glaciers in the Alps were also hugely impacted by the warming. They lost a record five cubic kilometres of ice — around 5.4 times the height of the Eiffel Tower.

Human toll of extreme heat; what needs to be done  

Extremes in heat during the late spring and summer resulted in hazardous conditions for human health.

The heatwaves impacted human health, with a record number of days with ‘very strong heat stress’ in southern Europe, and the second lowest number of days with ‘no heat stress’, read the report. 

The heatwaves contributed to the production of surface ozone pollution as well, potentially exacerbating the impact on human health.

This is worrying since heat stress is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the European region. Heat stress is described as a situation wherein the body cannot cool itself. 

Besides being fatal, the extreme temperature can also exacerbate chronic conditions, which includes cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases and diabetes-related conditions. 

European countries are required to take drastic adaptation and mitigation measures to tackle climate change to prevent more diseases and deaths, the authors of the report highlighted.

At least 17 countries in the region have heat health plans in place, according to another study. These include Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Challenges in integrating these plans into long-term climate change and health planning need to be addressed urgently in view of the alarming findings, the analysts said. 

Europe and the Mediterranean region are likely to experience another extreme summer in 2023, as stated by the Joint Research Centre from the European Commission in a report on March 30, 2023. 

The report also revealed that the average sea surface temperature across Europe’s seas was the warmest on record in 2022. River discharge was also the second lowest on record, marking the sixth consecutive year of below-average flows.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.