Extreme weather has cost Europe €50bn and killed 142,000 in 40 years

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By Euronews & AFP
Waves crash against a sailboat in Elsinore, Denmark, Sunday Jan. 30, 2022, after a large winter storm caused havoc in Scandinavia
Waves crash against a sailboat in Elsinore, Denmark, Sunday Jan. 30, 2022, after a large winter storm caused havoc in Scandinavia   -   Copyright  Keld Navntoft/Keld Navntoft

Heatwaves, floods, and other extreme weather have killed 142,000 people in Europe over the last 40 years and cost European economies more than 500 billion euros, according to a report released on Thursday. 

The European Environment Agency (EEA), which is headquartered in Copenhagen, urged better strategies for dealing with extreme weather at both the individual and pan-European levels. It noted that in only a quarter of cases the damage was insured. 

So-called 'climate events', which include heat waves, but also cold spells, droughts, and forest fires, account for 93% of the total number of deaths and for 22% of financial damage.

Floods were the costliest disasters in financial terms, meanwhile, amounting to 44% of the total bill, ahead of storms (34%)

A few very serious events concentrate the bulk of the balance sheet: 3% of the disasters identified are thus responsible for approximately 60% of the financial cost for the period 1980-2020.

A 2003 heatwave alone caused the death of some 80,000 people in the 32 European countries studied, including the 27 members of the European Union as well as Turkey and the United Kingdom.

Globally, the World Meteorological Organization estimates that the number of weather-related disasters has increased over the past 50 years, causing more property damage but fewer deaths.

For Europe, the EEA considers that the data for the past 40 years do not allow concluding with certainty that these phenomena have increased due to climate change due to the very irregular damage depending on the year, but that the risk will increase in the very near future.

"All the disasters that we describe as weather- and climate-related are influenced by climatic conditions. But that does not mean that they are all influenced by climate change," Wouter Vanneuville, of the EEA, said. 

Not a clear picture

Recent studies, including the work of the IPCC, show that the frequency and severity of events such as droughts and forest fires are better explained by climate change, he added. 

Vanneuville warned that climate models in Europe predict more frequent and more severe events, including storms, floods, landslides, droughts and forest fires, 

The EEA said measures taken at both individual and state level are essential to avoid the risks associated with extreme events and limit damage.

"After 2003, similar heat waves caused fewer deaths thanks to the implementation of adaptation measures", such as the installation of air conditioning, the report said.

At the national level, Germany is the European country that has suffered the most with 42,000 deaths and financial losses amounting to 107 billion euros.

France follows with 26,700 dead and 99 billion euros in damage.

Only 23% of properties that suffered material damage across Europe were insured, but the disparities are significant: for example, 1% in Romania and Lithuania against 55% in the Netherlands or 56% in Denmark.

Disasters like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not included in the figures as they are not meteorological.

According to a similar assessment established by the American meteorological agency NOAA, the United States has suffered 310 meteorological and climatic disasters since 1980, for damages exceeding 2.155 billion dollars.