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Health-damaging heat stress is increasing in Europe, scientists say

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe is increasingly facing heat spells so intense that the human body cannot cope with them as climate change continues to raise temperatures, the EU’s Copernicus climate monitoring service and the World Meteorological Organization said on Monday.

In a report on Europe’s climate, Copernicus and the WMO noted last year’s extreme conditions, including a heat wave in July that pushed 41% of southern Europe into strong, very strong or extreme heat stress – the largest area in Europe under such circumstances on any day. file.

Extreme heat poses special health risks for outdoor workers, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Parts of Italy recorded 7% more deaths than normal last July, with victims including a 44-year-old man who was painting road markings in the northern city of Lodi, who collapsed and died.

Heat stress measures the impact the environment has on the human body, combining factors such as temperature, humidity and the body’s response to establish a ‘sensible’ temperature.

Parts of Spain, France, Italy and Greece experienced up to ten days of extreme heat stress in 2023, defined as a “feeling temperature” of more than 46 degrees Celsius. At that point, immediate action should be taken to prevent heat stroke and other heat strokes. health issues.

Heat-related deaths have increased by around 30% in Europe over the past two decades, the report said.

The EU’s environment agency last month urged governments to prepare healthcare systems for climate change and called for EU rules to protect outdoor workers from extreme heat.

Last year was the warmest year in the world since records began. Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world.

Greenhouse gas emissions were the biggest cause of last year’s exceptional heat, the report said. Factors such as the El Nino weather pattern also played a role.

The heat brought extreme weather, including flooding, because the warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, creating heavier rainstorms when it is released.

Floods in Slovenia affected 1.5 million people last year. Greece was hit by the largest ever forest fire in the EU, which at 960 square kilometers was twice the size of Athens. The glaciers in the Alps lost 10% of their remaining volume in 2022 and 2023.

“Some of the events of 2023 have surprised the scientific community because of their intensity, speed of occurrence, magnitude and duration,” said Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)