Floods, heat waves, hurricanes: extreme weather events in Europe are increasing.

They cost human lives, but also lead to enormous economic damage.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has calculated that extreme weather and climate events have caused damage amounting to around half a trillion euros over the past 40 years.

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The overall damage caused by floods, storms and other extreme weather events between 1980 and 2020 in the 27 member states of the European Union as well as Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Turkey amounts to 450 to 520 billion euros, according to the EEA in a report presented on Thursday report analyzed.

Deadly Heat Waves

The number of deaths from extreme weather ranges from 85,000 to 145,000 during this period.

More than 85 percent of these are due to heat waves.

During the devastating heat wave in 2003 alone, at least half of all deaths from the weather over the past four decades died.

In general, it is estimated that just 3 percent of all extreme weather events are responsible for at least 60 percent of all economic losses, according to the Copenhagen-based EU agency.

These include the Elbe flood of 2002 as well as hurricane Anatol, which swept across northern Europe in 1999.

Germany, as the most populous EU member, had the highest economic damage of all 32 analyzed countries with about 110 billion euros.

This does not include the damage caused by the floods in the Ahr Valley last year.

France and Italy follow behind.

Liechtenstein, Iceland, Malta and Estonia suffered the least damage.

Calculated per inhabitant, Switzerland had the highest losses and Turkey the lowest.

Where extreme weather occurs is coincidence

Wouter Vanneuville, EEA expert on economic adaptation to climate change, emphasizes that one cannot blame individual states. High damage numbers over the past four decades do not necessarily mean that a country has not adapted well enough to extreme weather events. "There is a huge random effect in extreme events," he says. Some countries are more prone to this than others. One cannot say which EU countries are best prepared for this.

The EU authority primarily counts storms, floods, forest fires, heat waves and cold waves as well as heavy rain and droughts as extreme weather and climate-related events.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are not included as these are not related to weather and climate.

The EEA bases its analysis on two databases, which is why there are different figures for casualties and deaths.

The Natcatservice database of the reinsurer Munich Re has more conservative ratings than the Catdat database of the Karlsruhe think tank Risklayer.

Only a small part of the damage was insured

Both databases also indicate that only about a quarter to a third of the total losses were insured.

There are big differences between the respective events.

Although 37 to 54 percent of all losses from meteorological events such as storms were covered, not even a quarter of all losses from hydrological events such as floods were insured and only 7 to 16 percent of climatic losses such as heat waves.

In contrast, the Benelux countries, Norway and Denmark, Lithuania and Romania were hardly particularly well insured.

According to data from the World Weather Organization (WMO), the number of weather-related disasters has increased globally over the past 50 years.

Although the number of damages increased, fewer people died.

A clear trend towards higher damage figures in Europe cannot currently be discerned from the EEA analysis.

More weather extremes likely in the future

“The reason you don't see a trend isn't because climate change isn't real, it's because a lot of action is already being taken,” says expert Vanneuville.

All EU member states now have adaptation strategies or corresponding plans.

Nevertheless, Vanneuville expects the number of claims to increase, partly because more economic assets are located in flood-prone coastal areas.

Most meteorologists and climate researchers are convinced that extreme weather phenomena will increase worldwide in the coming years.

They advocate compliance with the two-degree target.

The final report of the EU research project Peseta IV states that a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius instead of 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century in Europe will result in up to 60,000 deaths per year from heat waves and losses of 20 billion euros due to drought per year can be avoided.

The damage caused by flooding on river courses could be reduced by half to around 24 billion euros a year, and on coasts by more than 100 billion euros a year.

The G20 Risk Atlas estimates that annual damage from river flooding alone will amount to around €21 billion in the EU and G20 European countries by mid-century.

Costs of 30 to 40 billion euros are even assumed by 2100 – assuming a relatively moderate rise in temperature.

Otherwise there is even a risk of losses of more than 70 billion euros.

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