1.5 degree increase would mean 30,000 heatwave fatalities yearly – study

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If temperatures were to rise by 1.5°C, the number of people in the European Union and the United Kingdom exposed to extreme heatwaves would increase from 9.6 million to 105 million, and heatwave fatalities could rise from the present 2,750 to 30,000.

This emerged from a technical report by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, which aims at providing evidence-based scientific support to the European policymaking process, and in which the Central Bank of Malta was involved.

According to the report, global warming will progressively increase the frequency and severity of heatwaves and result in a gradual decline in the intensity and frequency of extreme cold spells. The projections show that the trends are somewhat more pronounced in southern European countries. In a 3°C warmer climate compared to preindustrial times, a current 50-year heatwave may occur almost every year in Spain and parts of Portugal, every 3 years in most other southern European areas and at least every 5 years in other regions of Europe.

From the report it transpired that the projected change in heatwave hazard resulted in a strong rise in the number of people exposed to extreme heat with global warming. Even when temperatures could be stabilized at 1.5°C, by the end of this century each year more than 100 million citizens in the EU and UK are expected to be exposed to a present 50-year heatwave intensity, compared to nearly 10 million/year under baseline climate conditions (1981-2010). At 2°C, this further grows to 172 million/year. With unmitigated climate change (3°C in 2100), the number of people annually exposed to this intensity of heat climbs to nearly 300 million per year, meaning that more than half of the European population could be exposed each year to a present 50-year heatwave.

Assuming present vulnerability and no additional adaptation, annual fatalities from extreme heat in 2100 could rise from 2,750 deaths now to 30,000 at 1.5°C global warming, 52,000 at 2°C and 96,000 at 3°C. The rise in human exposure to and fatalities from extreme heat is most pronounced in southern European countries and the highest number of fatalities will occur in France, Italy and Spain.

Milder winters will reduce exposure to extreme cold by 50% at 1.5°C global warming, 60% at 2.0°C and more than 80% at 3°C (Figure 2). The number of reported fatalities in recent years is already much smaller than those from heatwaves (100 fatalities/year over the period 1980-2016). This will further drop as a result of global warmingIn a statement, the Central Bank of Malta said that it was actively involved at the forefront global warming research. A senior researcher in the Strategic Management Advisory and Research Team in the Office of the Governor at the Central Bank of Malta, Simone Russo, is one of seven authors of a report on Global warming and human impacts of heat and cold extremes in Europe.