The extreme heatwave across Europe this summer likely killed more than 20,000 people in France, Germany, Spain, and the UK according to excess deaths analysis of official data. The heatwave during the record-hot summer of 2022 would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change, mainly caused by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels.

Extreme heat exacerbates existing medical conditions but is rarely described as the official cause of death. Comparing death rates during the heatwave with death rates from other years (excluding COVID-19 deaths), analysts found 3,271 excess deaths in the UK and Wales, 10,420 excess deaths in France, 4,655 heat-attributable deaths in Spain, and about 4,500 deaths in Germany due to extreme temperatures. The death toll is the highest since 70,000 people were killed by extreme heat in 2003 — after which many public safety measures were implemented.

Despite those measures, and an increase in (energy-intensive) A/C adoption in the past 20 years, the 2022 death toll was still “higher than expected,” Chloe Brimicombe, a heatwaves researcher at the University of Graz in Austria, told Reuters. “Heatwaves are one of the biggest threats posed by climate change,” Dr. Friederike Otto told the Guardian. “High temperatures are responsible for thousands of deaths across the world every year, many of which go underreported.” (The Guardian, Reuters, Bloomberg $, Forbes; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)