In the year 2003, an extreme heatwave swept across Europe, leading to scores of deaths as people succumbed to the high temperatures. Now, researchers have been able to assess exactly how many of the deaths in Paris, the worst hit city during the heatwave, were due to human-induced climate change. They found that our actions increased the risk of death due to heat by a staggering 70 percent, and that this resulted in hundreds of people dying.
The research has combined thousands of climate model simulations of the 2003 heatwave with a health impact assessment in order to determine for the first time how many deaths in both Paris and London were directly attributable to the heatwave. They found that in Paris, 506 out of 735 summer deaths recorded were due to the heatwave made more extreme by man-made climate change, while in London it resulted in a lower 64 deaths out of 315.
They found that in Paris, human-induced climate change increased the risk of death due to heat-related causes by 70 percent, compared to a smaller but still significant 20 percent rise in risk experienced in the UK capital. The paper claims that no other heatwave on record had such a widespread impact on human health, and that their findings highlight an emerging trend that is only set to get worse as heatwaves are predicted to increase in frequency and severity.
The authors note that they only looked at a period of three months in 2003 in just two cities. With the heatwave affecting a far more widespread region for a longer period of time, and in total being attributed to the deaths of at least 70,000 people across the entire continent, they suspect that man-made climate change is responsible for substantially more deaths than what they were able to say with any confidence.
“It is often difficult to understand the implications of a planet that is one degree warmer than preindustrial levels in the global average, but we are now at the stage where we can identify the cost to our health of man-made global warming,” explains University of Oxford’s Dr Daniel Mitchell, who led the study published in Environmental Research Letters, in a statement. “This research reveals that in two cities alone hundreds of deaths can be attributed to much higher temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change.”
The researchers add that while traditionally climate science links trends in weather to increases in other factors, such as greenhouse gasses, linking premature deaths to the extreme weather induced by the burning of fossil fuels may compel better planning.