Weather-related disasters could affect around two-thirds of the European population annually by the end of this century. This could result in a 50-fold increase in fatalities compared to today if no measures are taken, according to a new study by the Joint Research Centre – the science and knowledge service of the European Commission.
The study, which has just been published in the Lancet Planetary Health, combines information on documented disasters with hazard and demography projections until 2100. The weather-related disasters considered are those with the greatest impacts – heatwaves and cold spells, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods and windstorms.
If not curbed, rising temperatures and climate change could expose some 350 million Europeans to harmful climate extremes every year. This substantial rise in the risk of weather-related hazards is mainly due to an increase in the frequency of heatwaves. Other factors behind the projected increase in weather-related risks are population growth and urbanisation.
The study concludes that southern Europe will be hardest hit, and that weather extremes could become the greatest environmental risk for people in the region, causing more premature deaths than air pollution. Recent heatwaves with record-breaking temperatures in Spain are an example of potential future extreme weather conditions, as events of this intensity could occur every year by the end of the century, the authors warn.
The variations in time, place, intensity and frequency of these hazards as a result of global warming were evaluated under a business-as-usual scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, using climate and biophysical models. Long-term demographic dynamics were modelled using a territorial modelling platform to represent the evolution of human exposure. Human vulnerability to weather extremes was analysed based on more than 2 300 records collected from databases of disaster events that occurred between 1981 and 2010, and was assumed to be static (under a scenario of no adaptation).
This study contributes to the ongoing debate about the need halt climate change and adapt to its unavoidable consequences, as emphasised by the Paris Agreement agreed through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The findings shed light on the expected burden of climate change on societies across different regions of Europe.
Source: Joint Research Centre
Featured photo: Floods in Bosnia. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO’s photostream (Flickr CC)