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Europe Emerges as Fastest-Warming Continent Amid Escalating Health-Harming Heat Stress

Europe Emerges as Fastest-Warming Continent Amid Escalating Health-Harming Heat Stress

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring agency have issued a concerning report indicating that Europe is increasingly facing severe heatwaves due to climate change, posing significant risks to human health. According to the report, a substantial portion of southern Europe, approximately 41%, experienced strong, very strong, or intense heat stress in a single day during a heatwave in July, as documented by Copernicus and the WMO.

Individuals who work outdoors, the elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are particularly vulnerable to the adverse health effects of extreme heat. Tragically, in July of last year, Italy saw a 7% increase in deaths compared to usual, with one victim being a 44-year-old man who succumbed to heat stress while working outdoors.

Heat stress is measured by factors such as temperature, humidity, and the body’s response, which collectively determine its impact on human health. In 2023, several parts of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece experienced up to 10 days of extreme heat stress, defined as temperatures feeling like they exceed 46 degrees Celsius, necessitating immediate action to prevent heat-related illnesses.

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Alarmingly, deaths in Europe from heat-related causes have surged by nearly 30% over the past two decades, underscoring the urgent need for proactive measures to address the escalating threat of extreme heat. Recognizing this, the European Union’s environment agency has urged governments to fortify healthcare systems to mitigate the impacts of climate change and enact regulations to safeguard outdoor workers from intense heat.

The report attributes the unprecedented heatwaves to greenhouse gas emissions, with factors like El Niño weather patterns exacerbating the situation. The ramifications of heightened temperatures extend beyond heatwaves, contributing to extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires. For instance, Slovenia witnessed devastating floods affecting 1.5 million people last year, while Greece grappled with its largest wildfire in EU history, covering an area twice the size of Athens. Additionally, alpine glaciers experienced a significant loss of 10% of their remaining volume in 2022 and 2023.

In light of these alarming trends, Carlo Buontempo, head of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, emphasized the unprecedented intensity, speed of onset, extent, and duration of the events observed in 2023, highlighting the urgent need for concerted global action to address the climate crisis.