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Scientists Warn of Increasing Health Risks from Heat Stress in Europe

Europe Grapples with Escalating Heat Stress as Climate Change Takes Toll

As climate change propels temperatures to unprecedented heights, Europe finds itself increasingly vulnerable to heatwaves so severe that the human body struggles to cope, according to the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as revealed in their recent report.

Highlighting the extreme weather events of the past year, the report emphasized a July heatwave that engulfed 41% of southern Europe in intense, very strong, or extreme heat stress—a record-setting phenomenon for the continent. Such scorching conditions pose significant health risks, particularly to outdoor workers, the elderly, and individuals with preexisting health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Last July, parts of Italy witnessed a staggering 7% surge in deaths compared to normal levels, underscoring the lethal impact of extreme heat. Tragic incidents, like the death of a 44-year-old man while painting road markings in Lodi, Italy, epitomize the dire consequences of heat stress on vulnerable populations.

Heat stress, which measures the body’s physiological response to environmental conditions like temperature and humidity, reached critical levels in regions of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece, with “feels like” temperatures surpassing 46 degrees Celsius for up to ten days in 2023. Such extreme conditions necessitate immediate measures to prevent heat-related illnesses and fatalities.

Over the past two decades, heat-related deaths in Europe have surged by approximately 30%, underscoring the urgent need for proactive measures to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures. The EU’s environment agency has called for robust healthcare system preparedness and advocated for regulatory safeguards to shield outdoor workers from the ravages of extreme heat.

Attributing last year’s scorching temperatures primarily to greenhouse gas emissions, the report also cited contributing factors like the El Niño weather pattern. The repercussions of heightened heat extend beyond temperature spikes, fueling extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires.

Devastating floods in Slovenia, Greece’s unprecedented wildfire—the largest in EU history—and significant glacier melt in the Alps serve as stark reminders of the far-reaching consequences of climate change-induced heatwaves. Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, emphasized the surprising intensity, speed, and duration of these events, signaling the urgent need for concerted efforts to combat climate change and safeguard vulnerable communities across Europe.

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