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The European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA) carried out by the European Environment Agency (EEA) identified 36 climate risks, with health being one of five priorities. The report confirms the urgency to act on health, as Europe is the fastest warming continent in the world. Protecting people against extreme weather events – heat and floods – and against wildfires are identified as areas for urgent action. 

Anne Stauffer, Deputy Director at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) comments:

“Health groups have long underlined that health needs to be at the heart of EU climate assessments and action, so it is welcome news to see the health risks thoroughly assessed, and vulnerable groups considered. EUCRA issues a dire warning that if we don’t act now, some of the health impacts will become catastrophic by 2100.”  

The EUCRA assessment concludes that health is impacted by climate change in many ways, both at the individual level and through systemic risks to the health system. 

Health impacts from heat stress and wildfires are identified as two risks for which urgent action is needed, confirming recent science: 

The Lancet Countdown previously pointed out that Europe is the region most vulnerable to health impacts from heat. In the summer of 2022 alone, more than 61,000 people died because of heat. EUCRA now warns that by 2100, heat stress could lead to catastrophic impacts; with heat risks for the general population already at critical levels in southern Europe today. An EU funded research project, Exhaustion, recently found that air pollution worsens the health impacts during heatwaves, increasing the number of deaths from people with respiratory and cardiovascular disease. 

Wildfires are identified as a second great risk to health, with the smoke from wildfires a major health threat. 

It is also welcome that EUCRA highlights that vulnerable groups are most at risk and that health systems capacity to protect them may be limited. 

Unfortunately, the report falls short on when it comes to action to better protect health, with a narrow focus on core health policies and only one mention that policies outside the health sector play a major role. 

“The health risks identified lead to a crystal-clear prescription, which includes taking swifter action to mitigate climate change, adopting health protective measures in adaptation policies, as well as strengthening clean air, zero pollution, nature protection and restoration policies, as a way to increase health and climate resilience”,

Anne Stauffer concludes. 

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