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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Europe’s hottest summer led to 20,000 excess deaths

Drought-damaged corn plants near Luckau, Germany, in August 2022.    (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)
By Laura Millan Lombrana Washington Post

Europe’s hottest summer on record likely resulted in more than 20,000 excess deaths in France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, according to official data.

The excess deaths – the difference between the total number of deaths in the summer of 2022 and the historical average – were particularly elevated during the three intense heat waves that struck Western Europe between June and August. Extreme heat is dangerous for human health because it makes every existing medical condition worse and can cause heat stroke in vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and those who do physical work outside.

Europe experienced the hottest summer on record for the second consecutive year in 2022, according to the EU’s Earth observation agency Copernicus. Climate change made the heat wave that struck the U.K. in June at least 10 times more likely, according to World Weather Attribution, a group of scientists that conducts rapid analysis on how the warming of the planet influences extreme weather events. The new U.K. heat record of 104.5 was set on July 19 and broke by 2.9 degrees the previous high mark set in 2019. Forty-six U.K. weather stations recorded new highs that month.

“Heat waves are one of the biggest threats posed by climate change,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment in London. “High temperatures are responsible for thousands of deaths across the world every year, many of which go under-reported.”

England and Wales suffered 3,271 excess deaths between June 1 and Sept. 7, according to a report by the Office of National Statistics. The ONS report excludes coronavirus deaths and noted that the number of deaths was higher on hotter days.

Over 10,400 people died in France during the summer months, according to data released on Wednesday by government agency Santé Publique France. One in every four of those deaths occurred during a heatwave, the French report said, and excess deaths were 20% higher in regions under red alert for extreme temperatures.

In Spain, more than 4,600 deaths between June and August were attributable to heat, according to the public Instituto de Salud Carlos III, which conducts research on health. In Germany, about 4,500 died during the summer months due to extreme temperatures, according to estimates by government agency Robert Koch Institute.

“Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense as the globe warms up, so we can expect more and hotter heatwaves in future,” said Eunice Lo, a research fellow in climate change and health at the University of Bristol. “Observed heatwaves have been made more likely to occur or more intense because of human emissions of greenhouse gases.”