24 March 2022

In Europe extreme weather events resulted in €500 billion losses since 1980


Since 1980, extreme weather events have caused half a trillion euros losses and 145,000 deaths in Europe, EEA has found. Climate change remains the main threat. Today, the insurance coverage is still too low

by Matteo Cavallito


In the last 40 years, extreme weather events associated also with climate change – storms, heat waves and floods – have devastated Europe leaving a heavy balance sheet. The death toll, in particular, ranges from 85 to 145 thousand lives. While the damage count is around 500 billion euros, according to the latest report of the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The study, which covers 32 countries (the 27 EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey) between 1980 and 2019, also highlights the low level of financial insurance which covered less than a third of damages as well as the impact of some especially devastating events. Around 3% of disasters, in fact, were responsible for 60% of losses.

Almost 300 billion euros of damage for Germany, France and Italy

In the ranking by country, Germany takes first place with total damage of 107.6 billion euros. Also on the podium are France (99 billion) and Italy (90). In the per capita ranking, however, the greatest damage occurred in Switzerland, Slovenia and France. Switzerland also recorded the highest costs per km2, ahead of Germany and Italy.

The economic impact, of course, should be balanced by insurance coverage, which, on average, accounts for less than a third of damage and varies significantly from country to country. While in The Netherlands and Denmark insurance coverage ranges from 55% to 56% of the total, in Romania and Lithuania it is just 1%.

As a result, different nations are paying highly variable costs in relative terms. France, for example, has benefited from around 40 billion in coverage against almost 100 billion damages. In Italy, by contrast, 85 of the 90 billion total costs did not triggered any compensation.

Germania, Italia e Francia, hanno accumulato da sole quasi 300 miliardi di euro di danni da eventi climaticie metereologici estremi. Immagine: EEA Attribution 2.5 Denmark (CC BY 2.5 DK)

Germany, Italy and France alone reported almost €300 billion in damages from extreme weather and climate events. Image: EEA Attribution 2.5 Denmark (CC BY 2.5 DK)

Heat waves killed thousands

The human costs are huge. Germany recorded about 42,400 victims, 26,800 died in France and 21,600 in Italy. According to the authors, most of the deaths – over 85% in the surveyed period – are due to heatwaves. “The heatwave of 2003 caused most fatalities, representing between 50 and 75% of all fatalities from weather and climate-related events over the last four decades,” the report says. “Similar heatwaves after 2003 caused a significant lower amount of fatalities, as adaptation measures were taken in different countries and by different actors.”

Also tied to rising temperatures, we may say, are devastating wildfires. According to the European Commission, in 2019 and 2020 the fire season has lengthened compared to the past while the number of fires and the burned area have exceeded the average of the last twelve years. Among the most relevant causes are mismanagement and misuse of land, human behavior and, of course, climate-related weather conditions.

Europe must defend itself against extreme events

The analysis by the European Environment Agency was made possible by the use of two different data sources. Researchers used information provided by the insurance company Munich Re and the numbers from Risklayer, an independent think tank based in Karlsruhe, Germany. The report thus contributes to filling a dangerous information gap that has always biased the assessment capacity of national authorities.

In most European countries, in fact, there is no system for calculating the damage produced by extreme events. This weakness must be addressed as soon as possible, researchers suggest, due to the growing risks associated with climate change.

“Monitoring the impact of such events,” they say, “is important to inform policy makers so that they can improve climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures to minimise damage and loss of human life.” Finally, the extension of insurance coverage is equally important. As it helps “to increase societies’ ability to recover from disasters, reduce vulnerability and promote resilience.”