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expert reaction to the European State of the Climate 2023 report published by Copernicus and the WMO

Scientists react to the European State of Climate 2023 report. 


Dr Radhika Khosla, Associate Professor, Smith School of Enterprise and Environment, University of Oxford, said:

“This comprehensive report reveals the extent of the climate challenges facing Europe. It is important to note that while the results show countries in Northern Europe are facing comparatively less days of extreme heat stress compared to the South, Northern Europe is largely unprepared for any sort of extreme heat. Our buildings, cities, and lifestyles are built around moderate to cold temperatures. As the mercury rises due to human activity, Northern Europe faces an unprecedented adaptation challenge.

“These results chime with our own research which found that parts of Northern Europe would see a significant rise in uncomfortably hot days as we move beyond the 1.5 degrees of warming threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

“The European State of the Climate report makes the need for urgent action clear. While the UK government recently held an inquiry into heat resilience and sustainable cooling, and has signed up the Global Cooling Pledge, the next steps in its implementation will be key. As it currently stands, the country’s net zero strategy makes little mention of the issue.

“Action steps should include ambitious design measures such as housing retrofit programmes to make occupants safer during heatwaves and legislation to prioritise passive cooling measures in urban design, such as natural shading, trees, bodies of water and green roofs. We also need to ensure that the methods we use to keep cool when extreme heat occurs do not worsen climate change. That means higher energy efficiency standards for all cooling equipment especially air conditioners and a faster phasing out of climate-damaging HFC gases.”


Prof Hannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, said:

“Europe’s climate report card for 2023 makes for concerning and depressing reading.

“It is truly shocking to see how quickly Europe went from hot, dry conditions leading to heatwaves, causing a summer health crisis in some parts, to a pattern of autumn storms leading to record river flows and floods. This is not unexpected, especially given the excess heat in the oceans and seas which drives rainfall and storminess.

“Europe only covers a small part of the globe, but we are particularly vulnerable to climate change. That’s because our climate is already very varied, ranging from polar Arctic conditions in the north, to the typically warm and dry Mediterranean climate in the south. Britain is vulnerable to shifts in climatic norms, because weather and climate in the British Isles are influenced by the competing conditions and immense power in the Atlantic, the Arctic and the Eurasian and African land masses. Anything that pushes that balance in one direction or another can lead to weather patterns that our homes, buildings and British society in general is just not properly prepared for.

“As Celeste Saulo, head of the WMO points out, the science is clear and the technology is ready and waiting, but we need to act much faster. We can do more to adapt our societies to these new extremes, but it will be much less costly in the long run to act now to prevent even more severe shocks from happening in the future.”


Dr Alan Dangour, Director of Climate and Health at Wellcome, said:

“The evidence is clear that Europe is now increasingly being directly affected by climate change – and the effects on health are devastating.

“Exposure to extreme heat is dangerous for everyone, but especially for vulnerable groups such as older people, pregnant women and young children. We must find ways to keep our towns and cities cool and ensure that vulnerable people are aware of the risks of extreme heat and are able to protect themselves.

“It’s good that we’re seeing climate scientists and health scientists increasingly collaborating. We need this joint expertise to find the best ways to protect our health and our planet.”


Assistant Professor Malcolm Mistry, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said:

“The European State of the Climate 2023 report by Copernicus and the WMO employs robust methodologies along with a wide range of observation and modelled data sources. The report is not only scientifically rigorous, but also timely, as Europe, which is warming rapidly compared to other WMO regions, faces unprecedented environmental hazards in a warming climate.

“The report highlights heat extremes – in particular, the jump in the number of “extreme heat stress” days – and, despite this, there it still perception among the public that heat is not a high risk issue.

“Adapting to extreme heat stress requires relatively simple measures at an individual level, such as indoor space cooling by fans or air conditioners, avoiding rigorous activities especially outdoors, and keeping oneself hydrated. Direct and indirect economic impacts inflicted by other environmental hazards, such as floods and wildfires, generally take longer to recuperate from.”


Dr Chris Huntingford, a climate modeller at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), said:

“This comprehensive report covers many varied, damaging impacts of global warming across Europe. Growing scientific evidence shows that extreme weather – both floods and droughts – are becoming more severe in many parts of the world.

“For example, our recent research suggests that in most of Europe, the temperatures of the hottest days are increasing faster than the local average rate of warming.”


Prof Richard Allan, Professor in Climate Science at the University of Reading, said:

“The new Copernicus report confirms that Europe suffered a near record hot year in 2023, with severe wildfires and heatwaves over land and record heat in the sea.

“Ocean temperatures were up to 5 degrees Celsius above average. Sea surface temperatures around Europe were the hottest on record, contributing to record global heat, combined with a strong El Niño event warming the east Pacific.

“Wetter than average European conditions led to record river flows in December, culminating in flooding that affected more than a million people. It was also stormier than normal, with destructive impacts from rain and winds, but with a silver lining due to the extra energy generated by renewable wind and hydro power. There was less snow for skiing in places like the Alps, and more worryingly, the continued rapid melt of precious glaciers, which provide a seasonal source of fresh water to many regions.

“More severe flooding, droughts and heatwaves along with destructive wildfire are an expected consequence of a climate artificially warmed by emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. A warmer atmosphere is a thirstier atmosphere, capable of more effectively sapping moisture from one region and blowing this water into storms elsewhere. This is leading to more variation and wilder swings between wet and dry days, seasons and years which are difficult to plan for and deal with, with damaging impacts to society, people and the natural world upon which we all depend. It is only with rapid, massive and sustained cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that we can avoid further worsening of climate impacts on our infrastructure, on our food supply, and on human health.”


Dr Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“The report clearly shows that climate change is already making life much more dangerous, more expensive, and more unpredictable for millions of people in Europe.

“Heatwaves are ‘silent killers.’ Unlike fires or floods, the effects of heatwaves aren’t visible, and heat-related death statistics aren’t routinely recorded.

“The report doesn’t give estimates for heat-related deaths. However, in 2022, 70,000 deaths in Europe were linked to high temperatures.

“Given 2023 was hotter than 2022, it’s likely the number of European heat-related deaths last year exceeds 70,000. 

“For many of these deaths, the additional heat caused by fossil fuel emissions would have been the difference between life and death.

“If humans continue to burn oil, gas and coal, heatwaves will continue to get hotter and vulnerable people will continue to die.”


Dr Ana Raquel Nunes, Assistant Professor in Health and Environment at the University of Warwick Medical School, said:

“The report simply reiterates the well-known connection between climate change and health. Despite this, health remains largely ignored in climate policies. Urgent action is imperative, requiring the formulation of specific plans and the integration of health concerns into all climate policies. Anything less will be denying future generations the protection and foresight they deserve.”


Dr Laurence Wainwright of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, said:

“The rise in extreme heat stress days in European countries as a result of climate change is cause for serious concern. Heat is the leading cause of weather and climate related deaths across Europe. While the majority of the general public understand the risks associated with extreme weather events such as floods and storms, research shows that people tend to significantly underestimate the risks of extreme heat – and overestimate their abilities to cope with it. High temperatures and sunshine are usually associated with cause for celebration and enjoyment rather than concern, and as such we tend to frame heat as a good thing. Public health messaging must do more to communicate the need to take extreme heat seriously. This is not about unnecessary doom and gloom; rather, it is about helping people to develop a healthy respect towards extreme heat and better understand the risks.

“While most people understand that extreme heat creates problems for physical health, there is far less understanding of the considerable impacts that it presents for mental health – especially for those with an underlying psychiatric condition. Rates of mortality rise, symptoms are exacerbated, side effects of medications worsened, suicide rates rise, and mental-health related hospital admissions go up.” 


Dr Joel Hirschi, Associate Head of Marine Systems Modelling at the National Oceanography Centre, said:

“The standout feature for the UK was June 2023. This was the hottest June on record by a margin of  almost 1C. This coincided with the development of an exceptional ‘marine heat wave’ around the UK with water temperatures up to 5C warmer than normal.

“European governments are well briefed on climate related risks but across the continent, adaptation and mitigation measures are falling short of what is required.  The cost for society will ultimately depend on the adaptation and mitigation measures we take now. Delaying action means a higher financial and societal cost further down the line.  

“The weather extremes we have been witnessing are in line with expectations of a warming climate. As we have seen in recent years we increasingly have to be prepared to face extreme events that can exceed previous records by a significant margin.

“In western and northwestern Europe, the first association often made in connection with hot weather is that of enjoying a good time – on a beach by the seaside or in a beer garden on a balmy summer’s night.  This positive association also often refers to times when hotter than normal weather occurs outside the warmest period of the year.  Even the most extreme of warm spells in January is not a direct a health concern in Europe.  Heat related health risks are concentrated during the warmest months of the year.  This is when heat waves lead to conditions that our bodies are not accustomed to, putting stress on vital organs, especially on the vulnerable.”


Prof David Stephenson, co-chair of the Royal Statistical Society Climate Change Task Force and Professor of Statistical Climatology, University of Exeter, said:

“The number of days with extreme heat stress in Europe broke previous records in 2023.  This phenomenon is to be expected from statistical arguments – the rate of occurrence of extreme daily temperature events is highly sensitive to small changes in the mean.

“As a UK example, daily maximum temperatures measured at Heathrow warmed by 1.33°C on average between 1960-91 and 1992-2023 yet the number of years having 30 or more days above 25°C more than doubled from 6 to 14 years over these two periods.”



Declared interests:

Richard Allan: No declarations of interest

David Stephenson: I am not aware of having any conflicts of interest in my role here as an independent expert

Laurence Wainwright: No conflicts of interest to declare.

Ana Raquel Nunes: No conflict of interests.

Friederike Otto: no interests

Alan Dangour: no interests to declare

Chris Huntingford: No interests to declare.

Malcolm Mistry: No conflicts of interest declared

Hannah Cloke: I work with and advise the Met Office, ECMWF and Environment Agency.

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.


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