Summer heat waves in France, Germany, Spain and Britain caused more than 20,000 “excess” deaths, a report compiling official figures said.
Temperatures reached nearly 40 degrees Celsius or more from Paris to London in 2022 and climatologists from the group World Weather Attribution found that such high levels would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.
A heat wave in 2003 caused more than 70,000 excess deaths across Europe, mainly in France, and led many countries to implement measures such as early warning systems, asking people to keep an eye on others and opening air-conditioned schools.
This and related action plans may have alleviated some of the impact of heat waves in 2022, but the death toll was still “higher than expected,” said Chloe Brimicombe, a heat wave researcher at the University of Graz in Austria.
Because authorities do not attribute most deaths directly to heat, statisticians use the excess formula to give an estimate, analyzing how many more people died in a given period than would be expected compared to a historical baseline.
High temperatures can lead to death by inducing heat stroke, which damages the brain, kidneys and other organs, but can also trigger other conditions, such as a heart attack or respiratory problems.
The World Meteorological Organization said this month that Europe had received more than twice as much heat as the rest of the world over the past three decades, while the Copernicus Climate Change Service said the summer of 2022 was the hottest on record.