Europe’s heatwave could cause more than 20,000 ‘extra’ deaths

Women, holding umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, wait at a bus stop as a heatwave hits London, Britain, on July 18, 2022. (Photo by Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Summer heatwaves in France, Germany, Spain and Britain have caused “already” more than 20,000 deaths, a report compiling official figures said on Thursday.

In 2022, temperatures from Paris to London are projected to rise by around 40 degrees Celsius or more, and climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution group found that such high temperatures would be “virtually impossible” without climate change.

A heat wave in 2003 killed more than 70,000 people in Europe, mostly in France, and prompted many countries to implement measures such as early warning systems, asking people to check on others and opening air-conditioned schools.

Chloe Brimicombe, a heatwave researcher at the University of Graz in Austria, said that this and related action plans may ease the impact of heatwaves in 2022 somewhat, but the death toll is still “higher than expected”.

He told Reuters:

I consider this the most effective heat wave since 2003.

Because officials don’t attribute most deaths directly to the heat, statisticians already use a formula to make an estimate, looking at whether more people died than expected in a given period compared to a historical baseline.

Heat can kill by causing heatstroke, which damages the brain, kidneys, and other organs, but it can also trigger other conditions, such as heart attacks or breathing problems.

The World Meteorological Organization said this month that Europe has warmed twice as much as the rest of the world over the past three decades, while the Copernicus Climate Change Service predicted that 2022 would be the hottest summer ever.

France reported almost half of the excess summer deaths in Western Europe, with a total of 10,420 deaths.

England’s Office for National Statistics said the number of excess deaths in England and Wales reached 3,271 in the summer.

Spain recorded 4,655 heat-related deaths between June and August, while the German health agency reported 4,500.