September 28, 2023

World sweltering through its “hottest week on record,” UN says

Paris – The World Meteorological Organization said Monday that early data show that early July the warmest week on record worldwide.

“According to preliminary data, the world has just had its warmest week on record,” the WMO said in a statement afterwards climate change and the early stages of the El Nino weather pattern produced the hottest June on record.

Temperatures are breaking records, both on land and in the oceans, with “potentially devastating consequences for ecosystems and the environment,” the WMO warned.

How to stay cool and safe during a heat wave

“We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to be broken as El Nino develops and these impacts will extend into 2024,” said Christopher Hewitt, WMO director of Climate Services. “This is worrying news for the planet.”

Driving home, a separate study has revealed the huge toll on human lives that extreme temperatures can take.

More than 61,000 people died from the heat during Europe’s record-breaking summer last year, a study said Monday, adding a call to do more to protect against even deadlier heat waves expected in the months and years to come.

Europe’s killer summer of 2022

Europe, the world’s fastest warming continent, experienced its warmest summer ever measured in 2022while countries were hit by sweltering heatwaves, crop-destroying droughts and devastating wildfires.

The European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat, had reported an unusually high number of deaths during the summer, but the amount directly related to the heat had not previously been quantified.

A team of researchers looked at temperature and mortality data from 2015 to 2022 for 823 regions in 35 European countries, covering a total of 543 million people.

The researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the French health research institute INSERM used models to predict temperature-related deaths for each region in each week of the summer of 2022.

They estimate that 61,672 deaths were related to the heat between May 30 and September 4 last year, according to the study published in the journal Nature Medicine.

A particularly intense heat wave during the week of July 18-24 alone caused more than 11,600 deaths, the study said.

“It’s a very high number of deaths,” said Hicham Achebak, an INSERM researcher and co-author of the study.

“We knew the effect of heat on mortality after 2003, but with this analysis we see that there is still a lot of work to be done to protect the population,” he told AFP.

In 2003, more than 70,000 additional deaths were recorded during one of the worst heat waves in European history.

Which countries had it worst?

Last year, France recorded the largest increase in heat compared to the previous summer average, with a jump of 2.43 degrees Celsius, the study said. Switzerland was not far behind with a rise of 2.30C, followed by Italy with 2.28C and Hungary with 2.13C.

Italy had the highest heat-related death toll with 18,010, followed by Spain with 11,324 and Germany with 8,173.

The majority of the deaths were of people over the age of 80, the study said.

About 63 percent of those who died due to the heat were women, the analysis said.

The difference widened above age 80, when women had a death rate 27 percent higher than men.

Previous research has shown that Europe is warming twice as fast as the global average.

While the world has warmed on average by almost 1.2°C since the mid-19th century, Europe was about 2.3°C warmer than pre-industrial times last year.

“Urgent action needed”

Unless something is done to protect people from rising temperatures, Europe will experience an average of more than 68,000 heat-related deaths each summer by 2030, the new study estimates. By 2040, there could be more than 94,000 heat-related deaths on average — and by 2050, the number could rise to more than 120,000, the researchers said.

“These predictions are based on the current level of vulnerability and future temperatures,” Achebak said. “If we take very effective measures, that vulnerability can be reduced.”

Raquel Nunes, a health and climate expert at Britain’s Warwick University who was not involved in the study, said the study “highlights the urgent need for action to protect vulnerable populations from the effects of heat waves”.

Chloe Brimicombe, a climate scientist at the Austrian University of Graz, said it “shows that heat prevention strategies need to be re-evaluated, particularly taking gender and age into account.”

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