Weather- and climate-related extremes caused economic losses estimated at EUR 560 billion in the EU between 1980 and 2021, of which only EUR 170 billion (30%) were insured. Nearly 195,000 fatalities have been caused by floods, storms, heat- and coldwaves, forest fires and landslides. Heatwaves caused over 87% of the total number of fatalities from extreme weather events between 1980 and 2021.
The heat wave of 2003, that affected in particular France, caused the highest number of deaths in Europe so far – around 70,000. “Heatwaves that are dangerous to human health — like the heatwaves of the summer of 2022 — are getting more frequent, longer and more intense and will continue to do so under all climate scenarios. In southern Europe, especially, there may be more than 60 summer days during which conditions are dangerous to human health — meaning higher number of additional deaths and hospital admissions, especially among the elderly and the sick, unless adaptation measures are taken. Heatwaves are the deadliest extreme weather events in Europe and the increasing vulnerability of the European population due to ageing and urbanisation requires urgent implementation of measures to prevent loss of life,” reads a press release of the European Environment Agency.
The EEA material describes a rather dire image of the future.
More frequent, extreme flooding
Heavy precipitation events are projected to increase over most of Europe, leading to increased incidence of flooding, especially in north-western and central Europe. Adaptation measures are necessary to protect society from the worst impacts, such as those caused by flooding in July 2021 in Germany and Belgium.
The exposure of population and assets to the risk continues with the ongoing development of floodplains, often putting the more vulnerable populations and facilities such as schools and hospitals at risk. Between 1980 and 2021, damages due to flooding amounted to nearly EUR 258 billion and are on average rising every year by over 2%.
More frequent, severe droughts
Since 2018, more than half of Europe has been affected by extreme drought conditions in both winter and summer. The 2022 droughts substantially reduced yields of crops like maize, corn, soybeans or olive oil. Another dry winter does not bode well for this summer and the outlook is pessimistic. The exceptionally dry and warm winter meant low snow cover and resulted in little soil moisture, low river flows and reduced water storage in reservoirs in most of southern and western Europe.
Long-term climate projections indicate that southern and central Europe will become even drier and hotter throughout the 21st century with devastating consequences for the agriculture sector. Total economic losses across all economic sectors linked to droughts are expected to rise by the end of this century from the current EUR9 billion per year to EUR 25 billion per year at 1.5 degree Celcius (°C) of global warming, EUR 31 billion per year at 2°C of warming and EUR 45 billion a 3 °C warming based on scientific scenarios.
More widespread wildfires
Most wildfires in Europe are started by human activities but climatic conditions — dry and hot periods with strong winds - determine their intensity and impact. Forest fires largely affect southern Europe, but also increasingly central and even northern Europe. Since 1980, 712 people lost their lives across Europe as a direct impact of wildfires. The 2022 wildfire season was the second worst since 2000, with over 5,000 km2 (twice the area of Luxembourg) burnt during the summer months (June, July, August) and a record area of Natura2000 nature protection sites affected.
Under the high emissions climate change scenario, the south of Europe, in particular the Iberian Peninsula, will experience a marked increase in the number of days with high fire danger. The number of people living near wildland and exposed to high-to-extreme fire danger levels for at least 10 days per year would grow from now by 15 million (+24%) under the 3°C global warming scenario.
Rise in climate-sensitive diseases
Some disease-carrying species are widespread in Europe (such as ticks which can spread Lyme borreliosis or tick-borne encephalitis), while others are invasive (like Aedes albopictus also known as the tiger mosquito which can spread dengue fever). A warmer climate means both endemic and invasive species can spread further north or be present at higher altitudes than in the past. The climate suitability for the tiger mosquito is projected to increase in large parts of Europe, especially in western Europe which could become a hot spot for the mosquito by the end of the century.
Malaria could also re-emerge in Europe due to the widespread presence of the Anopheles mosquito species which can carry the disease. Increased rainfall and presence of stagnant water creates more habitat for mosquitoes, and warmer temperatures increase the mosquito bite rate and the development of the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.