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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 22 March, 2018

Death toll from extreme weather in Europe 'could rise by factor of 50 by 2100'

Two in three people living in Europe may be affected by disasters, according to a new study.

TWO IN THREE people living in Europe may be affected by weather-related disasters by the end of the century, and the death toll from extreme weather events could rise by a factor of 50.

That’s according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, which sheds light on the expected burden of climate change on countries across Europe.

00148220_148220 Storm waves lash Lahinch in Co Clare in February 2014. Source: Laura Hutton/

The projected increases were calculated on the assumption of there being no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and no improvements to policies helping to reduce the impact of extreme weather events.

The estimates project a rise in the death toll from weather-related disasters in Europe would rise dramatically – from 3,000 deaths each year between 1981-2010 to 152,000 a year between 2071-2100.

The number of people in Europe exposed to such events each year may also increase from one in 20 people towards the beginning of the century (25 million) to two in three people (351 million) near the end of the century.

The study analyses the effects of the seven most harmful types of weather-related disaster – heat waves, cold weather, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods, and windstorms – in 31 European countries.

The study says that demographic trends, like people living in coastal flood-prone areas, are expected to be of greater importance in certain areas than for Europe as a whole.

The mean proportion of people living in coastal flood-prone areas is expected to increase by 14% more than the total population, with the most notable increases happening in:

  • Slovenia (205%)
  • Ireland (192%)
  • Norway (184%)
  • Portugal (161%)
  • And the UK (148%)

As part of the study, the researchers analysed 2300 disaster records from 1981-2010, which include the type of disaster, country, year and the total number of deaths caused, to estimate the population vulnerability to each of the seven weather-related disasters.

They then combined this with projections of how climate change may progress and how populations might increase and migrate.

The study estimates that heat waves would be the most lethal weather-related disaster, and could cause 99% of all future weather-related deaths – increasing from 2,700 deaths a year between 1981-2010 to 151,500 deaths a year in 2071-2100.

It also projects substantial increases in deaths from coastal flooding, which could increase from six deaths a year at the start of the century to 233 a year by the end of the century.

Paris floods Flooding in Paris last year. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Comparatively, wildfires, river floods, windstorms and droughts showed smaller projected increases overall, but these types of weather-related disaster could affect some countries more than others.

‘Cold waves’ could decline as a result of global warming, however, the effect of the decline will not be sufficient to compensate for the other increases.

“Climate change is one of the biggest global threats to human health of the 21st century, and its peril to society will be increasingly connected to weather-driven hazards,” lead author Dr Giovanni Forzieri of the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy said.

Unless global warming is curbed as a matter of urgency and appropriate measures are taken, about 350 million Europeans could be exposed to harmful climate extremes on an annual basis by the end of the century.

Due to projected increases in heat waves and droughts, the effect is likely to be greatest in southern Europe where almost all people could be affected by a weather-related disaster each year by 2100.

The researchers explain the need to address climate change by fulfilling the aims of the Paris Agreement. They also note that land use and city planning will play an important role.

Read: Rising temperatures will make it harder for planes to take off in coming decades >

Read: ‘We’ll see what happens’: Trump hints he could change position on Paris climate accord >

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