More than 20,000 people died across western Europe in this summer’s heatwaves at temperatures that would have been virtually impossible without climate collapse, figures show.
Analysis of excess deaths, the difference between the number of deaths and those expected based on historical trends, reveals the threats posed by global warming caused by climate change, scientists said.
During the summer heatwaves, temperatures in London topped 40°C (104°F), areas in south-west France hit 42°C and Seville and Córdoba in Spain set records of 44°C. Analysis by the World Weather Attribution scientific group found that such high temperatures would have been “virtually impossible” without the climate crisis.
In England and Wales, 3,271 extra deaths were recorded between June 1 and September 7, according to the Office for National Statistics – 6.2% more than the five-year average.
The analysis does not specifically estimate heat-related deaths, but the number of deaths was, on average, higher on days with heat than days without heat. Covid-19 deaths have been excluded.
According to the state health authority Santé Publique France, 10,420 deaths were reported in France in the summer months.
One in four of those deaths, or 2,816, occurred during one of the three intense heatwaves that hit the country. The additional deaths were 20% higher in regions where red alerts were issued for extreme temperatures.
In Spain, there were 4,655 heat-related deaths between June and August, according to estimates by the government-backed Carlos III Health Institute.
The Robert Koch Institute, the federal government’s health agency, estimates that 4,500 people died in the country in the summer months alone due to extreme temperatures.
dr Friederike Otto, Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said: “Heat waves are one of the greatest threats from climate change. High temperatures are responsible for thousands of deaths around the world each year, many of which are underreported.
“Despite this overwhelming evidence, there is still little public awareness of the dangers that extreme temperatures pose to human health.”
The summer of 2022 was the hottest on record, according to the EU’s Copernicus climate service.
dr Eunice Lo, Research Fellow in Climate Change and Health at the University of Bristol, said: “Heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense as the globe warms, so we can expect more and hotter heat waves in the future.
“Scientists have linked many past heatwaves to human-caused climate change. This means that the occurrence of observed heatwaves due to human greenhouse gas emissions has been made more likely or more intense.”
Global warming is caused by burning of fossil fuels, destruction of forests and other human activities. The International Energy Agency warned last year that no new gas, oil or coal developments could take place from this year if global warming were limited to 1.5C.
Lo said society must also adapt to extreme heat. “We … have to adapt to the heat in the long term. This includes designing homes, schools and hospitals that have good ventilation and prevent overheating, increasing green spaces and parks in cities, and providing heat warnings for everyone.”