Extreme weather in Europe: Immense economic damage

Status: 03.02.2022 8:55 a.m

Extreme weather and climate-related events repeatedly cause deaths and economic damage in Europe. From 1980 to 2020, the amount of damage was around 500 billion euros, according to an analysis by the EU Environment Agency.

From the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley to the storm “Nadia”: The past few months have shown once again in Germany what damage weather and climate-related events can cause. The EU Environment Agency EEA has now calculated the extent of the damage caused by extreme weather in Europe over the past few decades.

The EEA estimates that between 1980 and 2020 a total of 85,000 to 145,000 people died in the 27 EU countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Turkey due to extreme weather events. 85 percent of them died from heat waves alone – one of the most devastating was in 2003.

Immense economic damage

To calculate the numbers, the EEA used the databases of the Munich reinsurer Munich Re and the think tank Risklayer from Karlsruhe. The weather and climate-related events considered were storms, floods, wildfires, heat and cold waves, heavy rains and droughts.

The events also generate immense economic damage. The EEA estimates the amount of damage between 1980 and 2020 at a total of 450 to 520 billion euros – calculated in today’s prices. Only about three percent of the events are responsible for 60 percent of economic losses, according to the EEA.

Differences in individual countries

According to the analysis, Germany had the highest economic damage of 110 billion euros in a comparison of the 32 countries. France and Italy followed. Switzerland had the highest economic damage per capita.

However, the differences in damage levels do not necessarily mean that a country has not adapted well to extreme weather events, says Wouter Vanneuville. At the EEA, he deals with the economic consequences of adapting to the climate crisis.

The number of disasters has increased worldwide

“There is a huge random effect in extreme events,” says Vanneuville. Some countries are more vulnerable than others, regardless of preparation.

An analysis by the World Weather Organization (WMO) shows that the number of weather-related disasters has increased worldwide over the past 50 years. Accordingly, the damage would also increase, but there would be fewer deaths.

All EU countries have adaptation strategies

However, the EEA analysis does not show that the economic damage in Europe is increasing. However, an increase is to be expected in the future, says Vanneuville.

At the same time, Europe is already doing a lot to adapt to changing weather and climate conditions. All EU countries already have adaptation strategies.

“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 Vanneuville.


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