Heat waves are “the biggest direct threat” to health in the EU
(sustainabilityenvironment.com) – Unprecedented heat waves, such as those we have experienced this year, are “the greatest direct threat to the health of the climate-related European population”. And if in 2022, according to a still provisional account, the deaths from extreme heat are already 15 thousand, in 2100 they could become 90 thousand every year. The forecast is from the EEA, the European Environment Agency, which puts black and white the impact of the climate crisis on Europe in a report that focuses on extreme temperatures and increased climate-related infectious diseases.
The 90,000 deaths will become a reality in a global warming scenario of 3 degrees at the end of the century. Not far from the trajectory we are moving on today: according to the Emission Gap Report 2022 published by UNEP at the end of October, with current policies we are heading towards a warmer 2.8°C world. If, however, we respect the threshold of 1.5°C, the deaths from extreme heat would be three times less: 30 thousand a year.
The report traces some perspective even for the worst-case scenario among those hypothesized by the IPCC, namely the RCP8.5 that assumes a global warming higher than 4C – unlikely, but still possible. In this case, the number of days with heat waves such as to have impacts on human health passes, for Mediterranean Europe and in particular for Italy, from less than 5 to 40-50 a year between 2031 and 2060, to rise again to 60-70 in 2070-2099. Heat waves, in this case, are defined as periods of at least two days in which the average of both maximum and minimum temperatures exceeds 90° percentile.
Inevitably, the different European regions present different risk profiles, both for heat waves and for the spread of infectious diseases carried by carriers such as mosquitoes that expand their range thanks to the increase in temperatures. “Current and expected exposure to heat is higher in southern Europe, resulting in higher mortality rates and negative impacts on work,” the report said “Central and Eastern Europe is currently the most suitable climate for transmission of dengue, malaria and West Nile virus. The vulnerability of the population to high temperatures is greater in northern and western Europe, due to high levels of urbanisation and high percentages of the elderly in the population”.