Research led by Oxford University has put a hard number on the number of deaths caused by a climate-change-boosted heatwave that occurred in Europe in 2003, said to be one of the worst on record.

In Paris, the hottest city during the summer 2003 heatwave, there were 506 deaths due to the event. This was out of a total summer death figure of 735. In London, there were an additional 64 deaths due to the heatwave, out of a summer total of 315 heat-related deaths.

These were the only two cities analysed, though the study authors said the results suggest the total number of deaths across Europe due to climate change would have been a lot higher.

The findings were arrived at by putting climate model simulations of the heatwave into a health impact assessment of death rates.

It found human-induced climate change increased the risk of heat-related deaths in central Paris by around 70 per cent and by 20 per cent in London during the event.

“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 human-made global warming,” Lead author Dr Daniel Mitchell from Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute said.

“This research reveals that in two cities alone hundreds of deaths can be attributed to much higher temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change.”

Dr Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, US, said by showing the toll from climate change could be measured in human lives, the study “shines a spotlight on our responsibilities as a society for limiting further damage”.

Join the Conversation


Your email address will not be published.

  1. We have lived in the Pilbara for 10 yrs and 8 years on Groote Eylandt. So we have some experience at living and working in heat.
    During the heatwave we wrote to some elderly friends in Sweden trying to share the results of our experience. The response was fairly dismissive. For example their mothers had taught them to stay out of drafts and as for damping down clothes!!!!
    Our friends survived OK but this experience suggests that part of the problem was that people simply did not know what to do during unusually hot weather. Long term increases in heatwaves may not necessarily lead to high death rates if people learn the skills required to deal with heat.