Writing in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, Forzieri and colleagues describe how they used state-of-the art predictions to explore how often and where seven types of weather disasters – including heatwaves, wildfires and floods – are likely to occur across Europe in the coming years if no action on global warming is taken.
Looking at the impact on Europeans over 30-year intervals, the team found that two in three people in Europe could be affected by weather-related disasters annually by the period 2071-2100 – an estimated 351 million people. By contrast, between 1981 and 2010, 25 million people were exposed – just 5% of Europe’s population. This rise, say researchers, is largely down to heatwaves, with the phenomenon expected to account for 99% of the additional deaths.
Already today, authorities in 11 countries have warned residents and tourists to take precautions amid region’s most intense heatwave – nicknamed Lucifer – since 2003. Temperatures in many places hit or exceeded 40C (104F.) Such spells of extreme heat in southern Europe could be a foretaste of things to come. French researchers last month predicted summer conditions in some of the continent’s popular tourist destinations could become significantly tougher. Temperatures could pass 50C. The researchers noted that climate models suggest “human influence is expected to significantly increase the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves in Europe” and said their modelling suggested that by 2100, peak summer temperatures could rise by between 6C and 13C against historical records. Bosnian officials said the heatwave and drought had nearly halved agricultural output and Serbia said its corn production could be cut a third. The current extreme temperatures, coupled with strong winds, have also fanned wildfires across Europe
Ominously, Forzieri says the reality could be even more dire. “Our scenario is not the worst one we could choose – it is the medium scenario of greenhouse gas emissions.”