Increasingly hot European summers are harming health, report says

PARIS  -   Heat stress in Europe is increasingly threatening people’s health as global warming makes summers there hotter and deadlier, two leading climate monitors warned on Monday. The year 2023 saw record levels of heat stress in Europe -- environmental conditions under which the human body struggles to cope, said the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service and the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in a report. Prolonged exposure to heat stress -- which comes not just from high temperatures but factors like humidity, wind and heat bouncing off concrete -- can seriously compromise health and even cause death. Heat-related deaths have soared around 30 percent in the last 20 years in Europe as summer heatwaves have become longer and stronger, Copernicus and the WMO said. “We’re seeing an increasing trend in the number of days with heat stress across Europe and 2023 was no exception,” said Rebecca Emerton, a climate scientist at Copernicus. There was a record number of “extreme heat stress” days last year, she said. “This is equivalent to a feels-like temperature of more than 46 degrees Celsius, at which point it’s imperative to take actions to avoid health risks such as heat stroke,” she said. On July 23, at the peak of a summer heatwave, an unprecedented 41 percent of southern Europe was experiencing strong, very strong or extreme heat stress. “This is the largest area of southern Europe -- and in fact Europe as a whole -- that has seen these levels of heat stress on any one day in the era of record,” Emerton said. Some parts of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey saw up to 10 days of extreme heat stress, Copernicus said. Southern Spain, meanwhile, saw up to 80 days of very strong heat stress, it added. Heat stress is particularly dangerous for vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, outdoor workers, and those with pre-existing health conditions. The effect is stronger in cities, where there is less vegetation to cool the air, and heat is absorbed by concrete and radiated off footpaths and buildings. Radhika Khosla, an urban climatologist from the University of Oxford, said northern Europe in particular was “largely unprepared for any sort of extreme heat”. “Our buildings, cities, and lifestyles are built around moderate to cold temperatures. As the mercury rises due to human activity, northern Europe faces an unprecedented adaptation challenge,” said the associate professor at the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment. Summer 2023 was not the hottest in Europe -- in fact, it was the fifth -- but the continent sweltered from heatwaves during an “extended summer” between June and September, Emerton said. September was the warmest on record for Europe as a whole, she added.

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