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High fuel prices could kill more Europeans than the war in Ukraine

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Consumer electricity price, € per KWh

*EU-27 countries, except Malta, plus Britain, Norway and Switzerland

To win his war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin needs the West to stop supporting his adversary. His best opportunity to drive a wedge between them will arrive this winter. Before the war Russia supplied 40-50% of the EU’s natural-gas imports. In August Mr Putin turned off the taps on a big pipeline to Europe. Fuel prices surged, squeezing the economies of Ukraine’s allies.

So far, Europe has weathered this shock well, stockpiling enough gas to fill storage sites. But the rise in wholesale energy costs has still reached many consumers. Even though market fuel prices have declined from their peaks, real average residential European gas and electricity costs are 144% and 78% above the figures for 2000-19.

These costs pale in comparison with the horror Ukrainians have endured. But they still matter, because the colder the temperatures people experience, the more likely they are to die. And if the historical relationships between mortality, weather and energy costs continue to apply—which they may not, given how high current prices are—the death toll from Mr Putin’s “energy weapon” could exceed the number of soldiers who have died so far in combat.

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Although heatwaves get more press, cold temperatures are usually deadlier than hot ones. Between December and February, 21% more Europeans die per week than from June to August.

In the past, changes in energy prices have had a small effect on deaths. But this year’s cost increases are remarkably large. We built a statistical model to assess the effect this price shock might have.

The relationship between energy prices and winter deaths could change this year. But if past patterns persist, current electricity prices would drive deaths above the historical average even in the mildest winter.

Read More: High fuel prices could kill more Europeans than the war in Ukraine

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