Extreme temperatures and health
Published (reviewed and quality assured)
Justification for indicator selection
Temperature affects human well-being and mortality. Both cold spells and heat waves have public health impact in Europe. Heat waves have caused much higher fatalities in Europe in recent decades than any other extreme weather event. For example, in Spain, extreme heat accounted for 1.6 % of all deaths in the warm seasons, and about 40 % of these deaths occurred in periods that would not be classified as heat waves, that is on isolated hot days. The largest effect was observed among the elderly, but in some cities younger adults were affected as well. Heat-related problems are largest in cities; among many interrelated factors, the urban heat island effect plays an important role. Future climate change is very likely to increase frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves. During hot weather, synergistic effects between high temperature and air pollution (PM10 and ozone) were observed. Long warm and dry periods in combination with other factors can also lead to forest fires which have shown to have severe health impacts.
Extreme cold can also significantly affect human health. Excess winter mortality in Mediterranean countries is higher than in northern European countries, and deaths often occur several days or weeks after the coldest day of a cold period.
Besides extreme temperature events, temperatures outside a local comfort temperature range are linked to increased mortality and other adverse health outcomes. Several studies found J-shaped exposure-response relationships with mortality and morbidity, increasing at both ends of the temperature scale. Effects of heat occur mostly on the same day and in the following three days whereas cold effects were largest 2–3 weeks after the event.
- WHO 2011: Public health advice on preventing health effects of heat World Health organization, Copenhagen, Denmark.
- WHO 2008: Protecting Health in Europe from Climate Change. World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe, Copenhagen, Denmark.
- Daily mortality rates in 15 European cities by apparent temperature in summer time
- Logarithm of mortality rate
Policy context and targets
In April 2009 the European Commission presented a White Paper on the framework for adaptation policies and measures to reduce the European Union's vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The White Paper stresses the need to improve the knowledge base and to mainstream adaptation into existing and new EU policies. The European Commission will be publishing an EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013. A number of Member States have already taken action, and several have prepared national adaptation plans.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG Climate Action: What is the EU doing about climate change?
Activities of the EU regarding climate change (both mitigation and adaptation)
White paper - Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action
EU framework for adaptation to climate change, leading to a comprehensive EU adaptation strategy by 2013
Key policy question
What are health effects of temperature extremes across Europe, and how are they changing?
Methodology for indicator calculation
City-specific estimates of the relevant parameters were obtained from 15 years (1990-2004) of data by specifying a marginal Poisson model for the daily count of deaths.
Methodology for gap filling
- Baccini et al. (2008): Heat effects on mortality in 15 European cities Baccini, M., Biggeri, A., Accetta, G., Kosatsky, T., Katsouyanni, K., Analitis, A., Anderson, H. R., Bisanti, L., D'Ippoliti, D., Danova, J., Forsberg, B., Medina, S., Paldy, A., Rabczenko, D., Schindler, C. et al. (2008) Heat effects on mortality in 15 European cities. Epidemiology 19(5), 711–719.
EEA data references
- No datasets have been specified here.
External data references
Data sources in latest figures
Data sets uncertainty
Attribution of health effects to climate change is difficult due to the complexity of interactions, and potentially modifying effects of a range of other factors (such as land use changes, public health preparedness, and socio-economic conditions). Criteria for defining a climate-sensitive health impact are not always well identified and their detection sometimes relies on complex statistical or modelling studies (e.g. health impacts of heat waves). Furthermore, these criteria as well as the completeness and reliability of observations may differ between regions and/or institutions, and they may change over time. Data availability and quality is crucial in climate change and human health assessments, both for longer term changes in climate-sensitive health outcomes, and for health impacts of extreme events. The monitoring of climate-sensitive health effects is currently fragmentary and heterogeneous. All these factors make it difficult to identify significant trends in climate-sensitive health outcomes over time, and to compare them across regions. In the absence of reliable time series, more complex approaches are often used to assess the past, current or future impacts of climate change on human health.
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Short term work
Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.
Long term work
Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.
Responsibility and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A – What is happening to the environment and to humans?)