Extreme weather 'kills 140,000 Europeans in 40 years'

Germany suffered the most financially and lost the most lives over the past four decades, says study

Flooding in Agde, France, on January 30, 1996. France was the second-hardest hit by extreme weather in Europe, financially and in terms of human lives, in the past 40 years, a report says. AFP
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Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and floods have cost Europe almost €510 billion ($576bn) and about 142,000 lives in the past 40 years, a report published on Thursday says.

In its study, the European Environment Agency called for continued adaptation measures at individual and state level.

A small number of extreme events, about 3 per cent of the total, were responsible for about 60 per cent of the financial damages incurred from 1980-2020, the report showed.

When it came to loss of human lives, heatwaves accounted for 91 per cent, with the heatwave experienced in the summer of 2003 killing about 80,000 people.

Similar heatwaves after 2003 took significantly lower tolls "as adaptation measures were taken in different countries and by different actors", such as the installation of air conditioners, the agency said.

Globally, the World Meteorological Organisation estimates that the number of weather-related disasters has increased over the past 50 years, causing more damage but fewer deaths.

In Europe, the agency said data from the past 40 years did not allow for a definite conclusion to be drawn about whether the increase is caused by climate change, because of the very irregular damage recorded in different years.

"All the hazards we describe as weather and climate-related are influenced by climatic conditions," agency expert Wouter Vanneuville said.

"This said, that is not the same as saying they are all influenced by climate change."

Recent studies, notably the work of the IPCC, indicate that the frequency and severity of events such as drought and forest fires are easier to link to climate change, he said.

For others, such as hailstorms, there is still a lack of evidence.

"For some types, like non-tropical storms, the climate signal in Europe is unclear so it is uncertain if they will increase or not," Mr Vanneuville said.

"But for others — like droughts, not only in the Mediterranean but over most of Europe — will intensify based on climate predictions."

Germany was the country in Europe that suffered the most, with losses amounting to €107 million and 42,000 victims, over the past four decades.

This was followed by France (€99bn in damages and 26,700 deaths) and Italy (€90bn and 21,600 deaths).

Only 23 per cent of material damages across Europe were covered by insurance, but there are also massive disparities between countries.

In Romania and Lithuania, only 1 per cent was insured compared to 55 per cent in the Netherlands or 56 per cent in Denmark.

Disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not included in these figures, as they are not meteorological.

A similar report by the US weather agency Noaa found the US suffered 310 weather and climate disasters since 1980, with total damage exceeding $2.155 trillion.

Updated: February 03, 2022, 1:19 AM