29th Sep 2023

Expect more heatwaves, droughts, floods, and fires this summer, EU agency warns

  • In summer 2021, floods in Germany and Belgium caused more than 200 deaths, while Spain last year recorded 4,600 deaths related to heatwaves (Photo: Andreas Janke)
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This summer Europe is facing more severe, longer and more frequent heatwaves, droughts, floods, and wildfires — which pose a significant risk to nature, human health and the economy.

The summer outlook is "pessimistic" and requires upscaling of adaptation strategies and preparedness to avoid the worst impacts of extreme weather events, a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) warned on Wednesday (14 June).

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Heatwaves are becoming more common, intense and longer than before and are expected to continue to do so — potentially leading to an increasing number of deaths and hospital admissions.

While climate change has made deadly heatwaves at least ten times more likely in some parts of Europe, southern Europe is likely to suffer the most.

Countries like Spain, Portugal or Italy could have more than 60 summer days with weather conditions that are "dangerous" to human health, especially the elderly and the sick, the report warns.

Spain, where temperatures exceeded 45 degrees in the summer of 2022, recorded 4,600 deaths related to heatwaves.

Billions in loses

Meanwhile, flood risks are also increasing in Europe, especially in northwestern and central countries.

In the summer of 2021, extreme rain caused more than 200 fatalities in Germany and Belgium, with €50bn in estimated losses and damages. This became the most costly weather event since the 1980s.

Damages related to water floods amounted to nearly €258bn over the last 40 years, steadily increasing on average by over two percent every year.

On top of that, economic losses linked to droughts are also expected to rise from €9bn to €25bn under 1.5 degrees of global warming scenario, reaching up to €45bn at three degrees of global warming.

In the report, EEA experts recommend upscaling adaptation measures such as increasing the number of trees and water spaces in cities that could lower temperatures and reduce the risk of flooding.

Half of Europe has been witnessing extreme dry conditions in the winter and the summer since 2018. But long-term projections indicate that southern and central Europe will turn even drier and hotter, negatively impacting farmers and food production.

Last year, droughts led to a soil-moisture deficit, reducing crop yields and agricultural production in several member states.

Italy, for example, experienced €1bn in agricultural losses due to water shortages and droughts.

These previous experiences show that adaptation measures in agriculture are more needed than ever. "Without more adaptation, yields and farm incomes are projected to decline in the future," reads the report.

Earlier wildfires

While most wildfires in Europe are caused by humans, dry conditions and high temperatures also increase their intensity.

Jesús San-Miguel-Ayanz, from the EU commission joint research centre, said that the wildfire season this year has started earlier — with peaks of fires in February, March and May due to the intense drought in 2022 and a very dry winter that most European countries experienced.

Last year, wildfires burn twice the area of Luxembourg during the summer, hitting sensitive ecosystems and nature protection areas (especially in Spain, Romania and Portugal).

On top of that, warmer conditions are also a source of concern for epidemiologists since Europe could face the widespread of some species such as ticks and tiger mosquitos which can spread numerous diseases.

Adapting to Southern Europe's 'new normal' — from droughts to floods

Extreme weather events in recent months have worsened agricultural production in southern Europe, prompting concerns for authorities in Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. As countries will likely face dryer conditions, experts urge adaptation measures for the 'new normal'.

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