Business-as-usual leads to disaster. In 20 years, temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa will rise to 56° C

    12 May 2021

    In the summer months, temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa will rise to an ultra-extreme 56°C due to global warming. Business-as-usual will lead to super and ultra-extreme heatwaves in the region.

    This is stated in a study by the Center for Climate and Atmospheric Research (CARE-C) of the Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry, published in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science, reports Science Daily.

    “We project future hot spells by using the Heat Wave Magnitude Index and a comprehensive ensemble of regional climate projections for MENA” – the researchers said. They’ve found that disaster will emerge in the area unless radical measures are taken against global warming.

    “Our results for a business-as-usual pathway indicate that especially in the second half of this century unprecedented super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves will emerge”, explains George Zittis of The Cyprus Institute, first author of the study.

    These events will involve excessively high temperatures of up to 56°C and higher in urban settings and could last for multiple weeks, being potentially life-threatening for humans and animals. And even high-temperature tolerant animals such as camels.

    In the second half of the century, about half of the MENA population, or approximately 600 million people, could be exposed to such annually recurring extreme weather conditions. It will affect health, agriculture and biodiversity.

    Scientists expect that more than 90% of the MENA population will experience devastating weather conditions like annual over- and ultra-extreme heat waves.

    In their work, experts used the first of its kind multimodel ensemble of climate projections, developed specifically for the geographical area MENA. It allows them to quantify the intensity of individual events, taking into account both their duration and the temperature anomaly itself.

    “The potential intensification of heatwaves in the already harsh, hot and arid MENA environment is expected to have direct negative impacts on human health, agriculture, the water and energy nexus, and many other socioeconomic sectors. For example, heat stress can cause substantial loss of labor productivity and may also be linked to conflict and migration. Livestock in the MENA region will also be affected since the majority of the camel, cattle, and goat populations are located in areas of high vulnerability” – the scientists explain.

    With high emissions and concentrations of greenhouse gases in some parts of the Middle East, such as the Gulf, the combined effects of high temperature and humidity are projected to reach or even exceed thresholds for human adaptation.

    The region is also characterized by pronounced inequalities. The poor are expected to suffer most from climate change impacts on water and land resources, health, and energy systems.

    The human population of the MENA region (including the Mediterranean and southern Europe) is currently about one billion people, of which about 60% lives in citie). The narrative of the research implies a strong population increase until 2060–2070s and then a decrease until the year 2100.

    Urbanization is projected to continue, and by the end of the century more than 90% of the MENA inhabitants are expected to be urban dwellers. Currently, according to the SSP5 projections, about half of the regional population is exposed to “normal” or “moderate” heatwaves annually.

    CНОСКА. Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) are scenarios of projected socioeconomic global changes up to 2100. They are used to derive greenhouse gas emissions scenarios with different climate policies. SSP5 is Fossil-fueled Development (Taking the Highway).

    “Increasing further concentration of the population in large megacities is expected. It is expected that additional heat stress, as a rule, a factor that is not taken into account in global and regional climate forecasts, will be introduced as a result of the urban heat island effect” – scientists note.

    The researchers aimed to predict the characteristics of heat waves for the MENA region in the scenario of high greenhouse gas concentrations and to assess the potential impact of extreme thermal conditions. “We are considering aspects of heat waves that are expected to have consequences for human health and society. We particularly address the aspects of heatwaves that are expected to have consequences for human health and society. These include heatwave magnitude, amplitude, duration, and frequency”, the researchers explain.

    “Vulnerable citizens may not have the means to adapt to such harsh environmental conditions. These heat waves combined with regional economic, political, social and demographic drivers have a high potential to cause massive, forced migration to cooler regions in the north”, adds Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and leading the research team.

    To avoid such extreme heat events in the region, the scientists recommend immediate and effective climate change mitigation measures. “Such measures include drastic decreases of the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, but also adaptation solutions for the cities in the area”, says Lelieveld.

    Such detailed studies have not been conducted in this region before. The scientific community, which deals with modeling the regional climate, is mainly concentrated in Europe and North America.

    The study, building on cooperation between climate scientists from the MENA region, show good match among the model results and with observations. This indicates a high level of confidence in the heat wave projections.

    “There is an urgent need to make the cities more resilient to climate change,” emphasizes Zittis.

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