Enter your email to read this article
Read news on any topic, in one place, from publishers like The Economist, FT, Bloomberg and more.

Over 20,000 died in western Europe’s summer heatwaves, figures show

A firefighter tackles a blaze in a wheat field in the province of Zamora, Spain, in July
A firefighter tackles a blaze in a wheat field in the province of Zamora, Spain, in July. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/Reuters

More than 20,000 people died across western Europe in this summer’s heatwaves, in temperatures that would have been virtually impossible without climate breakdown, figures show.

Analysis of excess deaths, the difference between the number of deaths that happened and those expected based on historical trends, reveals the threats posed by climate change-induced global heating, scientists said.

During the summer heatwaves temperatures exceeded 40C (104F) in London, areas in south-west France reached 42C and Seville and Córdoba in Spain set records of 44C. Analysis from the World Weather Attribution group of scientists found that such high temperatures would have been “virtually impossible” without the climate crisis.

In England and Wales, 3,271 excess deaths were recorded between 1 June and 7 September, according to the Office for National Statistics – 6.2% higher than the five-year average.

The analysis does not estimate heat-related deaths specifically, but the number of deaths was higher on average for heat-period days than non-heat-period days. Covid-19 deaths were excluded.

In France, there were 10,420 excess deaths reported during the summer months, according to data released by Santé Publique France, the government health agency.

One in four of these deaths, or 2,816, happened during one of the three intense heatwaves that hit the country. The excess deaths were 20% higher in regions where extreme temperature red alerts had been issued.

In Spain, the state-backed Carlos III Health Institute estimates there were 4,655 heat-attributable deaths between June and August.

The Robert Koch Institute, the German government health agency, estimates 4,500 people died in the country during the summer months specifically due to extreme temperatures.

Dr Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said: “Heatwaves are one of the biggest threats posed by climate change. High temperatures are responsible for thousands of deaths across the world every year, many of which go underreported.

“Despite this overwhelming evidence, there is still little public awareness of the dangers that extreme temperatures present to human health.”

The summer of 2022 was the hottest on record, according to the EU’s Copernicus climate change service.

Dr Eunice Lo, a research fellow in climate change and health at the University of Bristol, said: “Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense as the globe warms up, so we can expect more and hotter heatwaves in future.

“Scientists have linked many past heatwaves to human-induced climate change. This means that observed heatwaves have been made more likely to occur or more intense because of human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Global heating is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, forest destruction and other human activities. The International Energy Agency advised last year that no new gas, oil or coal development could take place from this year onwards if the world was to limit global heating to 1.5C.

Lo said there was also a need for society to adapt to extreme heat. “We … need to adapt to heat in the long term. This includes designing homes, schools and hospitals that have good ventilation and prevent overheating, increasing green space and parks in cities, and making heat warnings accessible to all.”

Related Stories
First Thing: Musk offers general amnesty to suspended Twitter accounts
Fears ‘superspreaders of hate’ will return to social media platform after move. Plus, Biden renews call for assault weapon ban
From analysis to the latest developments in health, read the most diverse news in one place.
Climate change is making the weather more severe. Why don't most forecasts mention it?
Scientists and forecasters are trying to figure out how to talk about the connection between climate change and severe weather. It could have big impacts on how people think about global warming.
Extinction threat for Wet Tropic possums
Ringtail possums in Queensland's Wet Tropics could be wiped out by 2050 unless action is taken to reduce the impacts of climate change, a paper says.
France's summer heatwaves likely to have caused 2,816 additional deaths
Three successive heatwaves and COVID-19 are likely to have caused more than 10,000 additional deaths in France during this summer, the health ministry said.
Australia faces worsening extreme weather events latest BoM and CSIRO climate report finds
The continent is now 1.47C hotter than it was in 1910 and sea levels around the coastline are rising at an accelerating rate
One place to find news on any topic, from hundreds of sites.
WA's long-range weather forecast paints hot, dry picture of summer
It's going to be hot in the city — and almost everywhere else in WA — over the next few months, according the Bureau of Meteorology's long-range forecast, released today.