Extreme weather killed 140,000 Europeans in 40 years: Report

Heatwaves accounted for 91 per cent of human fatalities between 1980 and 2020. PHOTO: AFP

COPENHAGEN (AFP) - Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and floods have cost Europe almost €510 billion (S$776 billion) and around 142,000 lives over the past 40 years, according to a new report published on Thursday (Feb 3).

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

A small number of extreme events, about 3 per cent of the total, were alone responsible for about 60 per cent of the financial damages incurred from 1980 to 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 around 80,000 people.

Similar heatwaves after 2003 caused significantly lower fatalities "as adaptation measures were taken in different countries and by different actors", such as the installation of air-conditioners, the EEA noted in a statement.

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 EEA said the data from the past 40 years does not allow for a definite conclusion to be drawn about whether the increase is due to 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. This said, that is not the same as saying they are all influenced by climate change," EEA expert Wouter Vanneuville told AFP.

Recent studies, notably the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 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," he said.

"But for others - like droughts, not only in the Mediterranean but over most of Europe - (they) 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 with €99 billion in damages and 26,700 deaths, and Italy with €90 billion 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.

According to a similar report by the United States weather agency NOAA, the US has suffered 310 weather and climate disasters since 1980, with total damage exceeding US$2,155 billion (S$2,908 billion).

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