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Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera

Climate change threatens EU with mass deaths and huge costs: Report

Olive production faces climate risks, the new report says, noting that southern Europe will face critical food threats [Thanassis Stavrakis/AP]

Europe urgently needs stronger measures to respond to climate change risks, a new report has warned.

The 32-paged assessment, published on Monday by the European Environment Agency (EEA), asserted that the bloc is not prepared to respond to the increasingly severe risks that climate change poses. The policy adviser’s first-ever report on the threats faced by the world’s fastest-warming continent warns of “catastrophic” consequences.

“Hundreds of thousands of people would die from heat waves, and economic losses from coastal floods alone could exceed 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) per year,” the report read.

Urgent policies targeting healthcare systems, farming and critical infrastructure are needed, it continued, noting that extreme heat and drought events, once rare, are becoming more common.

“If decisive action is not taken now, most climate risks identified [in the report] could reach critical or catastrophic levels by the end of this century,” the analysis said, urging the EU to integrate climate risk into budgets and policies across sectors.

Those risks likely will not diminish even if the world meets the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping average temperatures no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, the researchers, who analysed five sectors ranging from business to health, noted.

An EU monitor recently noted that the world had crossed the 1.5C warming threshold last year, as 2023 broke records. However, the target has not been permanently breached because it depends on measurements taken over decades.

Climate-related hazards on food production are especially set to hit southern Europe hard, the report said, noting that less than 2 percent of EU farming subsidies are spent on helping farmers manage risks.

The report also recommended that the EU set requirements to protect outdoor workers in agriculture, construction and other industries from extreme heat or floods.

New “Eurocodes” for building infrastructure are also needed, because of mounting risks to critical infrastructure, such as floods damaging roads or extreme heat warping train tracks.

The report also called for the EU to design funding instruments to help countries prepare their healthcare systems to cope with climate change, which hits vulnerable and elderly people particularly hard.

Climate-related events accounted for 85,000 to 145,000 human fatalities across Europe over the past 40 years, according to the EEA. Extreme heatwaves in 2022 caused more than 60,000 deaths on the continent, researchers found separately.

Europe has faced a wave of severe climate events in recent years. In 2021, unprecedented floods swept across Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, leading to costs of 44 billion euros ($48bn).

The same year, Italy saw more than 150,000 acres (60,700 hectares) of forest burned in severe wildfires, the largest number in at least a decade. In 2023, flash floods in Slovenia caused damage estimated at more than 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Combined, economic losses from weather and climate-related extremes in EU countries exceeded 650 billion euros ($711bn) from 1980 to 2022.

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