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Study warns Europe will be “hit hard” by future climate-related disasters

Weather-related disasters could affect around two-thirds of the European population annually by the end of this century, according to a new study from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, the EC’s science and knowledge arm.

The population that is exposed on an annual basis is projected to increase from 25 million per year to 351 million by the end of this century. The study, which has just been published in the Lancet Planetary Health, is warning that this could result in a 50-fold increase in fatalities compared to today if no measures are taken.

The researchers are also warning that the number of people faced with reduced water resources for food production, domestic use, and other basic needs for human wellbeing could grow to 138 million people by 2100.

The weather-related disasters considered are those with the greatest impacts – heatwaves and cold spells, wildfires, droughts, river and coastal floods and windstorms.

According to the study, if not curbed, rising temperatures and climate change could expose some 350 million Europeans to harmful climate extremes every year. This substantial rise in the risk of weather-related hazards is mainly due to an increase in the frequency of heatwaves. Other factors behind the projected increase in weather-related risks are population growth and urbanisation.

The study concludes that southern Europe will be hardest hit, and that weather extremes could become the greatest environmental risk for people in the region, causing more premature deaths than air pollution.

The current heatwave across Europe, which has seen record-breaking temperatures in Spain, Italy and Greece, are an example of potential future extreme weather conditions, as events of this intensity could occur every year by the end of the century, the authors warn.

The study combines information on documented disasters with hazard and demography projections until 2100. Human vulnerability to weather extremes was analysed based on more than 2,300 records collected from databases of disaster events that occurred between 1981 and 2010, and was based on a scenario of no adaptation.

The variations in time, place, intensity and frequency of the hazards as a result of global warming were evaluated under a business-as-usual scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, using climate and biophysical models.

The new study is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the need to halt climate change and adapt to its unavoidable consequences,  emphasised in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“Land use and city planning most effective tools”

The findings shed light on the expected burden of climate change on societies across different regions of Europe.

The researchers say that land use and city planning can play an important role in achievement of a healthy, carbon-neutral, and resilient society, concluding that:

“They …are, in many instances, the most effective tools for reduction of the number of human beings exposed and their vulnerability to extreme weather events.

“A systematic approach to spatial planning to enhance health and sustainability requires strong cooperation across societal sectors and institutions, which should be supported by far-sighted policy.”

“The findings of this study could further aid in prioritisation of investments to address the unequal burden of effects of weather-related hazards and differences in adaptation capacities across Europe.”

Click here to read the The Lancet study



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