Europe's Growing Heat Crisis: Rising Risks and Urgent Actions Needed

Europe's Growing Heat Crisis: Rising Risks and Urgent Actions Needed

Europe is grappling with increasingly severe heatwaves due to climate change, according to reports from the EU's Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization. Last year saw extreme conditions, including a July heatwave that affected 41% of southern Europe with strong to extreme heat stress—a record area for such conditions in Europe. This extreme heat poses significant health risks, especially for outdoor workers, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health issues like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

The impact of heat stress on the human body, considering factors like temperature, humidity, and the body's response, was particularly notable last year. Certain regions in Spain, France, Italy, and Greece experienced up to ten days of extreme heat stress in 2023, with "feels like" temperatures exceeding 46 degrees Celsius, necessitating immediate action to prevent heat-related health problems like heat stroke.

Heat-related deaths have risen by approximately 30% in Europe over the past two decades. The EU's environment agency has called for government measures to prepare healthcare systems for climate change and to implement rules safeguarding outdoor workers from extreme heat.

Last year, which was globally the hottest on record, saw Europe as the fastest-warming continent. Greenhouse gas emissions were cited as the primary contributor to the exceptional heat in 2023. Other factors, including the El Niño weather pattern, also played a role.

The heightened heat also triggered extreme weather events like flooding, as warmer air can hold more moisture, resulting in heavier rainfall. Slovenia experienced floods affecting 1.5 million people, while Greece endured its largest-ever wildfire, double the size of Athens. Additionally, Alpine glaciers lost 10% of their remaining volume during 2022 and 2023.

Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, noted that some events in 2023 surprised the scientific community due to their intensity, rapid onset, extent, and duration.

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