By the end of the century, two out of three people living in Europe will be affected by heat waves, coastal floods and other weather-related disasters, largely due to global warming and climate change, according to a study published Friday in the journal Lancet Planetary Health.  That’s 350 million people in 31 countries subjected to an increased risk of death and health hazards.  Overall, weather-related disasters are expected to cause 152,000 deaths a year in Europe between 2071 and 2100, jumping from 3,000 weather disaster-related deaths a year between 1981 and 2010.  The researchers estimate that 99% of future weather-related deaths will be due to heat waves. That could very well cause a spike in cardiovascular disease, stroke and respiratory diseases, the researchers suggested. “This should be considered in light of the devastating effects of the 2003 European and 2010 Russian heat waves, where thousands died. The thought of such events occurring more frequently is frightening,” said Andrew Grundstein, a professor with the University of Georgia’s Department of Geography who was not affiliated with the new study. Southern Europe is likely to be hit the hardest, based on projections for heat waves and droughts. Almost everyone living in Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Cyprus, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia would be affected by weather-related disasters, causing 700 deaths per 1 million people annually. By comparison, one out of three people will be affected every year in northern Europe: Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Other than heat-related deaths, annual coastal flooding-related deaths will rise from six to 233 by the end of the century. Droughts could also reduce the water needed for food production and basic needs for 138 million people, the researchers said. Previous studies have pointed to population growth, urbanization and migration as drivers of disaster risk in the future.  “Our results show that for the future, climate change will likely be the dominant driver of the projected trends, accounting for more than 90% of the rise in risk to population,” said Giovanni Forzieri of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, lead author of the new study. “Population changes such as growth, migration and urbanization will account for the remaining 10%.” Europe is expected to face major changes in the frequency of multiple climate extremes over the coming decades, Forzieri said.  To understand the future effects of extreme weather, the researchers combined projections on climate change and population growth with 2,300 records from 1981 to 2010 that identified disasters and death tolls across countries.  The disaster records also helped the researchers determine “human vulnerability” — the relationship between weather exposure and how it affects humans — to seven weather-related disasters: heat waves, cold waves, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal flooding and windstorms.

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