How 2022 compares to Europe’s hottest summers

In just over two decades, Europe has experienced its five hottest summers since 1500. As temperatures rise above 40C across Europe this week here's a look at the history of recent heatwaves that have hit the continent.

How 2022 compares to Europe's hottest summers
Tactical firefighters in yellow suits, and supporting firefighters, set fires to burn a plot of land as they attempt to prevent the wild fire from spreading due to wind change, as they fight a forest fire near Louchats in Gironde, southwestern France on July 17, 2022. - France was on high alert on July 18, 2022, as the peak of a punishing heatwave gripped the country, while wildfires raging in parts of southwest Europe showed no sign of abating. (Photo by THIBAUD MORITZ / AFP)

Europe’s increasingly frequent heatwaves are back under the spotlight over devastating wildfires and with sweltering temperatures forecast to hit record highs in Britain and France this week.

On Monday July 18th the European Commission warned that more than half of the EU territory was a risk of suffering a drought due to the lack of recent rainfall and the scorching temperatures.

2022: Double trouble

A heatwave engulfing western Europe, the second in a month, sparks huge wildfires and threatens to smash records in Britain and France.

Fires in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain force thousands of residents and tourists to flee and kill several people, including a Spanish shepherd and a firefighter.

Firefighters stand on a road as heavy smoke is seen in the background during forest fires near the city of Origne, south-western France, on July 17, 2022. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

Britain braces for an all-time high of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) or more. Brittany in France could also register similar temperatures in what would be a regional record.

The weather warnings come hot on the heels of a scorching spell in June, where parts of Europe, from Spain to Germany, sizzled at unseasonal highs of between 40C to 43C.

2021: Hottest ever

Last year is Europe’s hottest summer on record, according to the European climate change monitoring service Copernicus.

Between late July and early August 2021, Greece endures what Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis calls the country’s worst heatwave in over 30 years, with temperatures hitting 45C in some regions. In Spain, temperatures reach 47C in parts of the south, according to national weather agency AEMET.

A helicopter drops water as fires rage in Navalmoral de la Sierra near Avila at center of Spain on August 16, 2021. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

The heat and drought spark large wildfires along the Mediterranean, from Turkey and Greece to Italy and Spain.

2019: Northern Europe swelters

The summer of 2019 brings two heatwaves, which leave around 2,500 people dead, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters of Belgium’s Louvain University.

In France, temperatures hit a record 46C on June 28 in the southern town of Verargues. Thousands of schools are closed.

A picture taken on July 25, 2019 shows a board displayed in an office building and reading 41 Celsius in Stuttgart, as a new record high temperature was recorded in Germany, amid a Europe wide heatwave, breaking the previous hottest figure reached the previous day. (Photo by Marijan Murat / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT

On July 24 and 25, northern Europe fries in record heat. Temperatures of 42.6C are recorded at Lingen in northwestern Germany, 41.8C in Begijnendijk in northern Belgium and 38.7C in the eastern English city of Cambridge.

2018: Drought drains the Danube

The second half of July and beginning of August 2018 sees very high temperatures across much of Europe and rivers running dry due to drought.

The Danube falls to its lowest level in 100 years in some areas, notably exposing World War II tanks in Serbia that were submerged since the conflict.

Portugal and Spain suffer hugely destructive forest fires.

2017: Months of mugginess

Much of Europe, but especially the south, sweats from late June to well into August.

Spain set a record of 47.3C on July 13 in the southern town of Montoro.

Persistent drought sparks forest fires in Portugal.

2015: Back-to-back heatwaves

It’s heatwave after heatwave throughout the summer of 2015 which leaves an estimated 1,700 people dead in France.

In Britain, roads melt and trains are delayed in the hottest July on record, with temperatures reaching 36.7C at Heathrow airport.

2007: Greek forests ablaze

Central and southern Europe are parched by drought throughout June and July, provoking a spate of forest fires in Italy, North Macedonia and Serbia.

Locals use branches to estinguish a fire in Kato Kotyli village in central Peloponnese 30 August 2007. The fires that wrought a trail of destruction across Greece for a week were mostly under control as people counted the cost of a disaster that has claimed 63 lives. (Photo by Yiannis Dimitras / AFP)

In Hungary, 500 people die as a result of the heat.

2003: 70,000 dead

Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal all experience exceptional heat in the first half of August, with Portugal suffering a record 47.3C at Amareleja in the south.

An EU study of 16 nations puts the number of excess deaths across the bloc during the heatwave as high as 70,000, with France and Italy each seeing between 15,000 and 20,000 fatalities, according to various reports since.

The 2003 heatwave in France caused the deaths of many elderly people and led to a change in the government’s approach to dealing with heatwaves. PHOTO JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo by Jean-Philippe KSIAZEK / AFP)

In France, most of the victims are elderly people in an episode that traumatises the country and leads to the implementation of new systems of protection during heatwaves.

Member comments

  1. Climate change is impacting us all but while it’s bad in Europe now both Africa and Asia get it worse.

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Sweden Elects: Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election?

Will the summer heatwave push the environmental agenda to the forefront of the Swedish election campaign? The Local's editor Emma Löfgren asks journalist and sociologist Dominic Hinde to explain how Sweden views the climate crisis – and how to figure out who to vote for in the election.

Sweden Elects: Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election?

Sweden last week recorded its highest temperature since 1947 – and it came close to beating its all-time record. And we’re not the only ones. Europe and the rest of the world have seen the impact of the climate crisis in recent years, we’ve seen how it’s putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

Green issues are not absent from the agenda in the run-up to Sweden’s September 11th election, but many are asking why they’re not front and centre. Even when the Green Party co-leader himself gave his most high-profile speech of the year the other week, while much of the speech was indeed dedicated to the climate, it took him over 13 minutes to get there.

For The Local’s Sweden Elects newsletter, I asked Dominic Hinde, a former foreign correspondent in the Nordic countries and sociologist of environmental communication (you can follow him on Twitter here), to help explain what role the climate crisis might play in the Swedish election campaign and to voters on election day: 

Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election? Or is that about to change ‘thanks to’ the current heatwave in Europe?

“Sweden is in a strange position in that voters care about the environment a lot, and throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s we saw parties compete for environmentally minded voters. Most people probably don’t know for example that in the 70s not only did the Centre Party hold the post of PM, they ran the campaign on a strong environmental ticket. In the 80s the Greens entered parliament, and the bigger parties started to change their image and policies towards being more sustainable.

“This led to lots of progress compared to many other countries, and Sweden became known as a bit of a green pioneer, but the problem is that now people think Sweden doesn’t need to do any more because most visible environmental problems have been made to disappear. The issue is that as Sweden is so rich, Swedes still produce a lot of carbon, taking holidays in the US or Thailand and buying lots of consumer goods.

“What we’ve seen in the election is a clash between people like the Greens and some in the Centre and Social Democrats who want to have more deep and meaningful transition, and those further to the right on the spectrum who think Swedes should not have to pay any more for their lifestyles or change how they live. It will be interesting to see whether Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson’s statement that he would make sure the middle and upper classes he wants to vote for him don’t need to adapt their lifestyles gets a bad reception after the summer heatwave.”

How well do Swedish media cover the climate crisis and what needs to improve?

“In many ways Sweden has a good record on covering the climate crisis. Swedish public service media and the big newspapers have all taken a keen interest in climate change since it was brought to mainstream attention in the early 1990s. Unlike the US or the UK Swedish media has never really tried to deny climate change to any great degree, though the suggested solutions have of course varied depending on political views. If we look at a newspaper like Aftonbladet for example, it has often been more radical on climate change than the Social Democratic party it nominally supports, and equally Svenska Dagbladet has had some really good climate journalism despite some reluctance to move quickly from the Moderate and Liberal parties it would ordinarily support.

“There’s no shortage of good information out there, but journalists can only inform and not tell people how to vote.”

What are Sweden’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of environmental policies?

“Sweden is lucky in that it industrialised late and was able to electrify large parts of the country with hydro power, topped up with nuclear from the 1960s. That means that Sweden already had low emissions compared to the rest of Western Europe and has been able to build upon that. There is some really exciting stuff happening such as the zero-carbon steel plant in northern Sweden and a new electric car industry, but Swedes are also very eager consumers and use a lot of energy travelling around and keeping warm in the winter especially.

“A good example of the problems we still have is something like the new Stockholm western bypass road. It is going to cost 28 billion kronor and the government’s own figures show it might increase car use in and around Stockholm, but the government pushed ahead with it because there was a demand from commuters and suburban swing voters. Then of course there is also the question of ‘Thailandsresor’ (trips to Thailand) and other luxuries Swedes have grown to love. A single trip to Bangkok cancels out every bit of green behaviour your average Swede might do in a whole year, from cycling to work to going vegan, but those emissions don’t count as Swedish as they mostly happen somewhere over Central Asia.”

If you’re a voter who cares about the environment, what are some key party policies or soundbites to keep an ear out for in the election campaign? I.e. what Swedish issues matter the most in terms of having an impact on climate change?

“This is a tricky question. Naturskyddsföreningen (The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation) use experts to rank the policies of parties at each election, with the Greens coming out top across the board and the Left, Social Democrats, Liberals and Centre coming in behind them, and the Moderates and Sweden Democrats ranking much lower, as do the Christian Democrats.

“Obviously the readers of The Local will want to make a choice based on other questions too such as the economy, taxation and business interests, but right now we are seeing a lot of smoke and mirrors around the question of fuel prices for example. In the medium-term, investment in shifting to electric cars and making use of Sweden’s exceptionally easy access to electrical power will bring bills down more than cutting the price of fuel at the pump can.

“The biggest contribution Sweden can probably make to cutting global emissions is to function as a kind of lab for what works. If Sweden can show it can be done then other developing countries could follow, and that is really important. Parties that pledge to invest in groundbreaking green technologies and in the famously shaky rail network are likely to be of more long-term benefit to the environment. It is also worth looking out for what they have to say on resilience and getting Sweden ready to deal with things like floods and forest fires.

“We can also say that voters in Sweden are lucky in that they can vote for a greener voice in a few different ways. The Green party provide an outlet for more left-minded environmentally conscious voters, but if you don’t want to vote for the Greens the Centre are a good bet for more economically liberal people who don’t quite trust the other centre-right parties on the environment.

“If you have the right to vote in Sweden, even if it is just in local elections, then it is worth taking the time to go to and talk to each of the parties when they set up shop in town squares around the election. They’ll likely all promise you they’re the best but if you go armed with some facts you’ll soon find out who knows their stuff and who is bluffing!”

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.