The number of deaths in London and Paris from a heatwave in 2003 attributed to man made climate change has been specified by a team of scientists. Out of 735 deaths in Paris, 506 were due to man made climate change, also known as anthropogenic climate change, which exacerbated the severity of the heatwave.
Even though the effect in London was not as severe, anthropogenic climate change contributed to sixty-four deaths in the UK’s capital, out of a total of 315 heat-related deaths, the researchers wrote in the journal Environmental Research Letters (citation below).
The authors, from the University of Oxford, Public Health England, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Reading University – all in the UK, and from the Union of Concerned Scientists in the USA, said their study suggests that such research gives policymakers better data regarding the damaging effects of heatwaves to help them plan for the future challenges of climate change.
A significant number of deaths during the 2003 heatwave in Paris were attributed to anthropogenic climate change. (Image: adapted from ox.ac.uk/sites)
The team put the results of climate model simulations of the heatwave that occurred in 2003 into a health impact assessment of death rates.
Thousands of climate model simulations
Thousands of volunteers from the weather@home project donated computer time to this study. Thanks to them, the researchers managed to run several thousands of high-resolution regional climate model simulations.
The team found that anthropogenic climate change increased the risk of heat-related deaths by 20% in London and 70% in central Paris.
The article informs that the mortality rate associated with human-induced climate change in London and Paris was notably high. However, these are just two of several cities that were affected by a heatwave in 2003. The authors suggest that the resulting total number of deaths across the continent due to climate change is probably considerably higher.
London also experienced several deaths due to human-induced climate change during the 2003 heatwave. (Image: Adapted from express.co.uk)
The report looks at the June-to-August period of that year. The authors warn that no heatwave on record has ever had such a widespread effect on the health of humans, as experienced during those three months of 2003.
First study to specify death toll
While previous studies have managed to attribute changes in the frequency of heatwaves and severity to anthropogenic climate change, this study is the first to provide a specific number of premature deaths directly caused by climate change during an extreme weather event.
Lead author, Dr. Daniel Mitchell, who works at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, said:
“It is often difficult to understand the implications of a planet that is one degree warmer than pre-industrial 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.”
“This research reveals that in two cities alone hundreds of deaths can be attributed to much higher temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change.”
Co-author, Dr. Peter Frumhoff, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said:
“By starkly showing we can measure the toll in human lives that climate change is already taking through worsening extreme heat, this study shines a spotlight on our responsibilities as a society for limiting further damage.”
These results highlight an emerging and growing trend, the authors point out. Climate change is forecast to increase the severity and frequency of future heatwaves and other severe weather events.
Research needs to focus on possible changes in future death rates, taking into account demographic and population changes.
In an Abstract in the journal, the researchers wrote:
“Such an ability to robustly attribute specific damages to anthropogenic drivers of increased extreme heat can inform societal responses to, and responsibilities for, climate change.”
Citation: “Attributing human mortality during extreme heat waves to anthropogenic climate change,” Chris Huntingford, Giacomo Masato, Daniel Mitchell, Clare Heaviside, Peter Frumhoff, Andy Bowery, Sotiris Vardoulakis, Benoit P Guillod, David Wallom and Myles Allen. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 11, Number 7. 8th July, 2016. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/7/074006.
2003 heatwave anthropogenic climate change deaths