Europe's killer heatwaves are a new norm. The death rates shouldn't be.

People cooling off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a new heatwave broke temperature records in France last Thursday. PHOTO: REUTERS
People cooling off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a new heatwave broke temperature records in France last Thursday. PHOTO: REUTERS

On the southern outskirts of Paris, a cemetery holds the bodies of the city's unclaimed dead. Until recently, there lay a hundred whom some consider to be the first victims of global climate change. They were mostly elderly and poor, the forgotten people of the worst weather disaster in contemporary European history: The heatwave of August 2003, which killed nearly 15,000 in France alone and thousands more across the continent.

Experts have predicted that a changing climate will bring more frequent, longer-lasting and more intense heatwaves to Europe - a prediction that appears to be coming true rapidly. Less than a month after Western Europe suffered a brutal heatwave, France, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands again face suffocating temperatures, all in countries where few homes are air-conditioned. Highs of almost 109F (42.7C) in Paris and 98 in London on Thursday broke records in those cities. This is also the fifth successive summer of extreme heat in France.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2019, with the headline 'Europe's killer heatwaves are a new norm. The death rates shouldn't be.'. Subscribe