Urgent need for adaption: climate change affects health
Climate change is affecting all regions in Europe, causing a wide range of impacts on society and the environment. Further impacts are expected in the future, potentially causing high damage costs, according to the latest assessment published by the European Environment Agency today. WHO Regional Office for Europe contributed to assessment of the health effects.
The report, ‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012’ finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe. The last decade (2002–2011) was the warmest on record in Europe, with European land temperature 1.3° C warmer than the pre-industrial average. Various model projections show that Europe could be 2.5–4° C warmer in the later part of the 21st Century, compared to the 1961–1990 average.
Extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods and droughts have caused rising damage costs across Europe in recent years. While more evidence is needed to discern the part played by climate change in this trend, growing human activity in hazard-prone areas has been a key factor. Future climate change is expected to add to this vulnerability, as extreme weather events are expected to become more intense and frequent. If European societies do not adapt, damage costs are expected to continue to rise, according to the report.
Heat waves have increased in frequency and length, causing tens of thousands of deaths over the last decade. The projected increase in heat waves could increase the number of related deaths over the next decades, unless societies adapt, the report says. Besides heat-related health impacts, other human health effects are also important, the report says. Climate change plays a part in the transmission of certain diseases. For example, it allows the tick species Ixodes ricinus to thrive further north, while further warming may make parts of Europe more suitable for disease-carrying mosquitos and sandflies. The pollen season is longer and arrives 10 days earlier than 50 years ago, also affecting human health.
Some regions will be less able to adapt to climate change than others, in part due to economic disparities across Europe, the report says. The effects of climate change could deepen these inequalities. The report is intended to show the full extent of climate change impacts across Europe, also informing the European Commission’s European Adaptation Strategy to be published in March 2013. WHO Regional Office for Europe is supporting Member States in assessing vulnerability to climate change, developing national adaptation strategies and building capacities and in implementing the Regional Framework on Protecting health from climate change.