Climate change and human health

Climate change and human health

Climate change in Europe is already affecting public health, and will continue to do so in the future. How does it affect Europeans today? What does the future look like? European Environment Agency asked these questions to Bettina Menne from WHO Europe.


Does climate change affect human health?

Climate change affects public health in many different ways. There are direct and indirect impacts, as well as those that occur immediately and those that occur over a longer period of time. We estimate that 150 000 deaths worldwide were caused by climate change in 2000. According to a new WHO study, this is projected to increase to 250 000 deaths per year worldwide by 2040. This estimate would have actually been higher if we had not factored in the reduction of child mortality expected in future years.

Extreme weather events are already among the top climate-change impacts that affect public health. In addition, mortality related to heatwaves and flooding is expected to increase, in particular in Europe. And changes in the distribution of vector-borne diseases will also affect human health.


How do extreme weather events affect public health?

Different types of extreme weather events affect different regions. Heatwaves are mostly a problem in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, but they are also a problem in other regions. According to estimates, the heatwave of 2003 caused 70 000 excess deaths in 12 European countries, mostly among older people. As people get older, the thermal regulation of the body is impaired, which makes older people more vulnerable to high temperatures.

By 2050, heatwaves are projected to cause 120 000 excess deaths per year in the European Union, and to have an economic cost of EUR 150 billion if no further measures are taken. This higher estimate is not only due to more frequent and higher temperatures but also due to Europe’s changing demographics. Currently, around 20% of EU citizens are over 65 years of age, and their share in the population is expected to increase to around 30% in 2050.


Source: European Environment Agency

Date: September 2015

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