Extreme temperatures and health (CLIM 036) - Assessment published Nov 2012
Climate change (Primary topic)
Environment and health
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 036
Key policy question: What are health effects of temperature extremes across Europe, and how are they changing?
- Mortality and morbidity increase, especially in vulnerable population groups, and general population well-being decreases during extreme cold spells and heat waves, as well as above and below local and seasonal comfort temperatures, with different temperature thresholds in Europe.
- The number of warm days and nights has increased across Europe in recent decades. Heat waves over the last decade have caused tens of thousands of premature deaths in Europe.
- Length, frequency and intensity of heat waves are very likely to increase in the future. This increase can lead to a substantial increase in mortality over the next decades, especially in vulnerable groups, unless adaptation measures are taken.
- Cold-related mortality is projected to decrease in Europe due to climate change as well as better social, economic and housing conditions in many countries.
Temperature-mortality relationship in 15 European cities
Note: Figure shows relationship between daily maximum apparent temperature (Barcelona: mean apparent temperature) and natural mortality (blue) and 95% confidence interval (grey).
- Heat Effects on Mortality in 15 European Cities provided by International Society for Environmental Epidemiology
The summer of 2003 was an outstanding example of increased mortality during periods of extreme temperatures, with an estimated premature mortality of 70 000 people[i]. During the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2010 temperature records were again broken in different parts of Europe[ii].
Future climate change is very likely to increase frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, which leads to a marked increase in heat-attributable deaths under future warming[iii] (Figure 1). Synergistic effects between high temperature and air pollution (PM10 and ozone) were observed during hot weather. Long warm and dry periods in combination with other factors can also lead to forest fires, which can also have severe health impacts[iv].
Projections of heat-related mortality use evidence from epidemiological studies combined with future scenarios of climate, population and acclimatisation with regionally specific temperature-mortality relationships[v]. The PESETA project estimates that heat-related mortality in Europe in the 2080s will increase by between 60 000 and 165 000 (without adaptation and physiological acclimatisation, compared to the present baseline). Cold-related mortality is projected to decrease by between 60 000 and 250 000, which is about the same magnitude as the increase from heat-related mortality[vi]. Uncertainty in these estimates needs to be carefully addressed[vii]. A study covering most of Europe projects a progressive change in the seasonality of maximum monthly mortality from winter to summer, an increase in the frequency of warm extremes and that the number of uncomfortable days will increase. In the absence of adaptation, these changes would lead to a reduction in human lifespan of up to 3–4 months in 2070–2100.
The ClimateCost project estimates an additional 26 000 deaths per year from heat by the 2020s (2011–2040), rising to 127 000 deaths per year by the 2080s (2071–2100) under a medium to high emission (A1B) scenario, assuming no adaptation. While heat-related mortality is projected to increase across Europe, impacts would be highest in southern Europe. Under an E1 scenario, broadly equivalent with stabilising global mean temperature increase at 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, impacts are reduced significantly, with an estimated 69 000 deaths per year by the 2080s. With acclimatisation, the estimated number of heat-related deaths declines substantially to 13 000 per year in the 2020s, and 40 000 per year in the 2080s under the A1B scenario; for the E1 scenario it is down to 18 000 per year in the 2080s. Similar to PESETA, these figures are subject to considerable uncertainties.
[i] Jean-Marie Robine et al., „Death toll exceeded 70,000 in Europe during the summer of 2003“, Comptes rendus biologies 331, Nr. 2 (Februar 2008): 171–178, doi:10.1016/j.crvi.2007.12.001.
[ii] D. Barriopedro et al., „The hot summer of 2010: Redrawing the temperature record map of Europe“, Science 332, Nr. 6026 (März 17, 2011): 220–224, doi:10.1126/science.1201224.
[iii] M Baccini et al., „Impact of heat on mortality in 15 European cities: attributable deaths under different weather scenarios“, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 65, Nr. 1 (Januar 2011): 64–70, doi:10.1136/jech.2008.085639.
[iv] A. Analitis, I. Georgiadis, and K. Katsouyanni, „Forest Fires Are Associated with Elevated Mortality in a Dense Urban Setting“, Occupational and Environmental Medicine 69, Nr. 3 (Januar 3, 2012): 158–162, doi:10.1136/oem.2010.064238.
[v] Baccini et al., „Impact of heat on mortality in 15 European cities“.
[vi] J.C. Ciscar et al., „Physical and economic consequences of climate change in Europe“, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, Nr. 7 (Januar 31, 2011): 2678–2683, doi:10.1073/pnas.1011612108; Cunrui Huang et al., „Projecting future heat-related mortality under climate change scenarios: A systematic review“, Environmental Health Perspectives 119, Nr. 12 (August 4, 2011): 1681–1690, doi:10.1289/ehp.1103456.
[vii] Paul Watkiss and Alistair Hunt, „Projection of economic impacts of climate change in sectors of Europe based on bottom up analysis: human health“, Climatic Change 112, Nr. 1 (2012): 101–126, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0342-z.
Heat effects on mortality
provided by Università degli Studi di Firenze
More information about this indicator
See this indicator specification for more details.
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
EEA Management Plan2012 2.0.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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