Heat killed 61,000 in Europe’s record-breaking 2022 summer

2022 europe heatwave drought alerts
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More than 61,000 people died due to the heat during Europe’s record-breaking summer last year. That’s according to a new study which called for more to be done to protect against even deadlier heatwaves expected in the coming years.

Europe is the world’s fastest-warming continent, and experienced its hottest summer on record in 2022. Countries were hit by blistering heatwaves, crop-withering droughts, and devastating wildfires.

Heat data

The EU‘s statistics agency Eurostat had reported an unusually high number of excess deaths over the summer. However, the amount directly linked to the heat had not been previously quantified.

Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and France’s health research institute INSERM (L’Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale) used models to predict the deaths attributable to temperature for each region in every week of 2022’s summer.

The team looked at data on temperature and mortality from 2015 to 2022. This covered 823 regions across 35 European countries, for a total of 543 million people.

They estimated that 61,672 deaths were linked to the heat between May 30 and September 4 last year, according to the study published in the journal Nature Medicine.

A particularly intense heatwave in the week of 18-24 July caused more than 11,600 deaths alone.

Read on...

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INSERM researcher and study co-author Hicham Achebak said:

It is a very high number of deaths.

We knew the effect of heat on mortality after 2003, but with this analysis, we see that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to protect the population.

More than 70,000 excess deaths were recorded in 2003 during one of the worst heatwaves in European history.

Women and over-80s vulnerable

Last year, France recorded the biggest rise in heat compared to its previous summer average, with a jump of 2.43°c. Switzerland was not far behind with a 2.30°c rise. It was then followed by Italy with 2.28°c and Hungary with 2.13°c.

Italy had the highest death toll linked to the heat with 18,010, followed by Spain with 11,324, and Germany with 8,173.

The majority of deaths were of people over the age of 80. Furthermore, around 63% of those who died due to the heat were women. The difference became more stark over the age of 80, when women had a mortality rate 27% higher than men.

Previous research has shown that Europe is warming at twice the global average.

While the world has warmed an average of nearly 1.2°c since the mid-1800s, last year Europe was around 2.3°c hotter than pre-industrial times.

Rising casualties

Unless something is done to protect people against rising temperatures, by 2030 Europe will face an average of more than 68,000 heat-related deaths every summer, the study estimated.

By 2040, there would be an average of more than 94,000 heat-linked deaths. Then, by 2050, the number could rise to over 120,000.

Achebak added that:

These predictions are based on the current level of vulnerability and future temperatures.

If we take very effective measures, that vulnerability can be reduced.

Raquel Nunes, a health and climate expert at the UK’s Warwick University, not involved in the research, said the study:

highlights the urgent need for action to protect vulnerable populations from the impacts of heatwaves.

Chloe Brimicombe, a climate scientist at Austria’s University of Graz, said it:

demonstrates that heat prevention strategies need to be re-evaluated, with gender and age especially in mind.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Toreti, A. et al, resized to 1910*1000, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license,

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