Roughly two out of every three people living in Europe will be affected yearly by extreme weather by the year 2100, according to a new study published in The Lancet Planetary Health.
These findings are based on a scenario where greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced from current levels, and where policies that would help to reduce the impacts of extreme weather aren’t put into action.
To put a number to these findings, the study estimates that there will be around 152,000 people dying every year in Europe as a result of extreme weather during the 2071–2100 time period. This represents a roughly 50-times increase from current levels (~3,000 deaths a year as a result of extreme weather events in Europe, during the 1981–2010 time period).
Another way to put that is that while only around 1 in 20 people (~25 million) in Europe are exposed to extreme weather events currently, that figure will rise to 2 out of 3 (~351 million) by the latter part of the century.
With regard to who these findings relate to, they concern the 28 current European Union countries plus Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland. With regard to what kind of “extreme weather” events are being discussed, that would be the 7 “most harmful” types of weather disasters: heat waves, wildfires, cold waves, droughts, flooding (coastal + river), and windstorms.
“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,” commented lead author Giovanni Forzieri, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Italy. “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.”
The press release provides more: “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 6 deaths a year at the start of the century to 233 a year by the end of the century.”
“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 this decline will not be sufficient to compensate for the other increases.”
Droughts, heat waves, and wildfires are of course likely to affect Southern Europe even more than Northern Europe. The study predicts that “almost all” people in Southern Europe could be affected by extreme weather disasters every year by the year 2100. This would relate to about 700 deaths per 1,000,000 people every year in the region as a result of weather disasters. Can you imagine that?
Of course, the actual effects — when one considers the impacts on agriculture, long-term water availability, and employment — could end up being much, much worse. And the potential for these problems to exacerbate existing geopolitical and ethnic divisions is certainly there as well — potentially leading to much, much higher fatality figures.
As noted at the start of the article, these findings are based on the assumption that current greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced. As it stands, greenhouse emissions aren’t actually falling, and official emissions figures have often been found to be suspect — clearly, if emissions are going to be reduced to a significant degree, then big changes will need to be made pretty much immediately.
The researchers note that besides reducing emissions, there’s not much else that could be done to notably mitigate what’s coming, including increasing the thermal insulation and flood-proofing of many houses as well as increasing access to air conditioning during heatwaves.
“This study contributes to the ongoing debate about the need to urgently curb climate change and minimise its consequences. The substantial projected rise in risk of weather-related hazards to human beings due to global warming, population growth, and urbanisation highlights the need for stringent climate mitigation policies and adaptation and risk reduction measures to minimise the future effect of weather-related extremes on human lives,” added Dr Forzieri.
The study doesn’t taken into consideration a wide variety of factors that will modify events on the ground quite a bit, it should be realized. These include: population aging, the increased potential for disease outbreaks with accompanying disasters, and a number of other factors. Overall, though, the study is probably a pretty good basic outline of what’s coming.
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