Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

A surge in temperatures across Southern Europe – dubbed the “Lucifer” heatwave – has caused a number of deaths in recent weeks. This could be a sign of things to come, according to new research.

A new report funded by the European Commission (EC) has found that more than 150,000 people could die every year in Europe from extreme weather by 2100, unless a solution to climate change is found.

It’s predicted that most of these fatalities will be caused by heatwaves, although other extreme weather events, such as ‘coldwaves’, flooding and windstorms, will also take their toll.

Population growth and urbanization are expected to contribute to the massive spike in deaths, but the main driver will be climate change.

The shocking nature of this report has led to renewed calls from environmental groups for governments around Europe to start taking climate change seriously. But is it a case of ‘too little, too late’?

Millions will be affected by disasters

If the findings of the EC report are proved to be correct, the impact on Europe will be monumental.

To put this into perspective, extreme weather caused 3000 deaths each year between 1981 and 2010 – that figure is expected to increase 50-fold to 152,000 between 2071 and 2100.

The study also states that, by the end of the century, two in three of those living on the continent will be affected by disasters – that’s 351 million people.

Just 5% of Europeans were affected by extreme weather disasters between 1981 and 2010.

The scientists behind the EC report used historical records of extreme weather events and combined these with projections of the impact of climate change and changes in population to project how many will die from the effects of global warming.

Image: PEW Research Center

The Lucifer heatwave sent temperatures soaring to as high as 44C in parts of southern Europe. Five people have died so far and hospital admissions have risen by up to 15%.

Heatwaves of this nature could become a regular occurrence by the end of the century. The authors of the EC report have warned that it may become so hot in certain parts of the world that it will be dangerous for people to go outside.

The report’s lead author, Dr Giovanni Forzieri, said: “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.”

Preventing runaway climate change

The world’s reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal, gas and oil, is harming the environment and people.

Air pollution caused by these fuels is deadly. Coal-burning is one of the most prolific silent killers – it’s responsible for almost 23,000 early deaths each year in the European Union.

It is hoped that a switch to renewable energy and international pacts to fight climate change like the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep global warming below 2C, and 1.5C if possible, will help end the fossil fuel era.

The EC report urges governments to stick to the key goals of the Paris Agreement to “preserve the health and wellbeing of future generations of people in Europe”, adding that land use and city planning also play an important role in climate change mitigation.