Recent findings from the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization highlight that Europe is facing dangerously high temperatures, leading to severe heat-related health threats.

The report highlights an unprecedented situation in 2023, especially during a July heatwave that put 41 percent of southern Europe under severe heat stress—the largest area recorded in a single day.

Vulnerable Populations at High Risk

The elderly, outdoor workers, and individuals with chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes are particularly at risk. In Italy, extreme heat led to a 7 percent increase in deaths last July. Notably, a 44-year-old worker in Lodi lost his life due to the scorching temperatures.

Heat stress, a measure combining temperature, humidity, and the body’s coping ability, resulted in “feels like” temperatures hitting above 46 degrees Celsius for up to ten days in parts of Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. At these critical levels, proactive measures are essential to prevent serious health issues, including heat stroke.

Surge in Heat-Related Deaths

Over the last two decades, Europe has seen a 30 percent increase in heat-related fatalities. The EU’s environment agency is urging governments to revamp healthcare systems to manage climate-related health conditions better and to introduce regulations protecting outdoor workers from extreme temperatures.

2023 was globally the hottest year on record, with Europe warming at the fastest rate. The report attributes this surge largely to greenhouse gas emissions, though phenomena like El Niño also played a role.

Additionally, the rise in temperatures has exacerbated other extreme weather events. A warmer atmosphere, holding more moisture, has led to heavier, more destructive rainfalls. Slovenia experienced impactful floods affecting over 1.5 million people last year. Meanwhile, Greece battled its largest wildfire on record, and Alpine glaciers saw a 10 percent volume reduction in just two years.

Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, remarked on the surprising intensity, onset speed, scale, and duration of some extreme weather events in 2023. The health-harming heat in Europe highlights the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to mitigate the threats of climate change and protect Europe’s vulnerable populations from an increasingly hostile environment.

Image Source: University of Oxford