Extreme Weather Shock: France Ranked Fifteenth in Global Risk Table

Reporting in Le Parisien on a climate risk study published by a German think tank, Frédéric Mouchon epitomises the shock expressed in the national press to France being classed in the same category as famously vulnerable countries like Bangladesh.

Article source: "Canicules, tempêtes, inondations : la France est devenue un des pays les plus exposés au monde", Frédéric Mouchon, Le Parisien, 04/12/2019.

The shimmering Mediterranean Sea, photogenic Paris, the unspoilt beaches of the Atlantic coast… this is the picture-postcard France we all know and love. But beyond the picture-postcard image lies a country lashed by extreme weather conditions, with deadly floods in the Mediterranean Basin leaving desolate landscapes in their wake, heatwaves turning Paris into a sweatbox and storms wreaking havoc along the coast. According to a study released today by the German organisation Germanwatch, France is ranked fifteenth out of the 183 countries studied in terms of susceptibility to extreme weather conditions. On the map drawn up by the think tank, both France and Germany are marked in red, along with Madagascar, India, Bangladesh, El Salvador and Haiti.

Germanwatch estimate that nearly 500,000 people have died over the last twenty years as a result of one of the 12,000 extreme climatic events that have occurred across the world. The NGO has documented the number of fatalities and economic losses linked to events like heatwaves, hurricanes and floods in no fewer than 183 countries.

According to the study, France can be ranked as the eighth most affected country, based on the number of fatalities per capita in the period from 1999 to 2018. One of the main explanations for this ranking is that France has suffered a number of deadly heatwaves over the past twenty years – in 2003, 2006 and 2018 – causing, respectively: 15,000, 1800 and 1500 deaths.

Global Heating the Cause of Extreme Weather

But the country has also experienced extremely violent storms. In 1999 a storm caused the deaths of 35 people, and Cyclone Xynthia, in 2010, was responsible for 53 deaths and caused considerable damage, injuring or destroying the property of half a million people. During the same period, France has also suffered deadly flash-floods, including the two incidents that have just hit the Mediterranean coast, causing twelve deaths. In November 1999, torrential rains flooded several villages and killed 34 people near Carcassonne, on the Spanish border. In 2002, the Gard département, also in the South of the country, suffered its worst floods since 1958. A wave seven metres high swept through the town of Sommières, killing 27 people. Next it was the turn of another Mediterranean département, the Var (around Toulon), where 23 people lost their lives in the floods of 2010.

Guillaume Séchet, a meteorologist and author of the book, Météo extrême, claims that global heating is likely to cause extreme weather events in the French Mediterranean Basin to occur 20% more frequently by 2100. He also warns of the increasingly disastrous impact of such events, as soil sealing becomes more prevalent in the region and demographic pressure continues to grow. Insurers are tearing their hair out just thinking about the potential economic impact: the floods that occured between the end of May and the beginning of June 2016 caused damage amounting to 1.4 billion euros, making them the most costly floods since the creation of the French Natural Disaster Compensation Scheme in 1982.

European Countries “Must Adapt”

According to David Eckstein, one of the authors of the Germanwatch study, “over the past twenty years, France has been experiencing a great number of storms and floods, but also very deadly heatwaves for which, like many other European countries, it has not been prepared.” The NGO has estimated that periods of extremely high temperatures are up to 100 times more likely to happen now than they were a century ago, “which is why European countries must adapt to these climatic events by using different construction materials, but also by thinking about new ways of designing more heatproof buildings” adds Eckstein.

During the COP25 UN Climate Change Conference held in Madrid last December, the World Meteorological Organization once again provided a reminder that “Heatwaves and floods which used to be ‘once in a century’ events are becoming more regular occurrences” and that global heating is no longer just a theoretical concept: “2019 is expected to be the second or third warmest year on record.”


Translated by Barbara Lepeltier, Léa Glorieux and Eugénie Dufeu

Editing by Sam Trainor

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