By 2100, two in three people living in Europe may be affected by weather-related disasters, according to a study published in The Lancet Planetary Health which sheds light on the expected burden of climate change on societies across Europe.
The study analyses the effects of the seven most harmful types of weather-related disaster - heatwaves, cold snaps, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods, and windstorms - in 28 European Union countries, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. The projected increases were calculated on the assumption of there being no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and no improvements to policies helping to reduce the impact of extreme weather events (such as medical technology, air conditioning, and thermal insulation in houses).
"Climate change is one of the biggest global threats to human health of the 21st century, and its peril to society will be increasingly connected to weather-driven hazards," says lead author Dr Giovanni Forzieri of European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy. "Unless global warming is curbed as a matter of urgency and appropriate measures are taken, about 350 million Europeans could be exposed to harmful climate extremes on an annual basis by the end of the century."
The study estimates that heatwaves would be the most lethal weather-related disaster, and could cause 99% of all future weather-related deaths, increasing from 2,700 deaths a year between 1981-2010 to 151,500 deaths a year in 2071-2100.
It also projects substantial increases in deaths from coastal flooding, which could increase from six deaths a year at the start of the century to 233 a year by the end of the century.
Comparatively, wildfires, river floods, windstorms and droughts showed smaller projected increases overall, but these types of weather-related disaster could affect some countries more than others. Cold snaps could decline as a result of global warming, however the effect of this decline will not be sufficient to compensate for the other increases.
Due to projected increases in heatwaves and droughts, the effect is likely to be greatest in southern Europe where almost all people could be affected by a weather-related disaster each year by 2100, projected to cause around 700 deaths per every million people each year.
Comparatively, in northern Europe, one in three people could be affected by a weather-related disaster each year, resulting in three deaths per every million people each year.
Climate change is likely to be the main driver behind the potential increases, accounting for 90% of the risk while population changes such as growth, migration and urbanisation account for the remaining 10%.
"This study contributes to the ongoing debate about the need to urgently curb climate change and minimise its consequences. The substantial projected rise in risk of weather-related hazards to human beings due to global warming, population growth, and urbanisation highlights the need for stringent climate mitigation policies and adaptation and risk reduction measures to minimise the future effect of weather-related extremes on human lives." adds Dr Forzieri.
Adverse weather, which includes such events as heatwave, featured fifth in the list of concerns that business continuity professionals have, as identified in the Business Continuity Institute's latest Horizon Scan Report. Climate change is not yet considered an issue however, as only 23% of respondents to a global survey considered it necessary to evaluate climate change for its business continuity implications.