The Middle East and North Africa are getting warmer along with the rest of the world. But in an area that’s already home to some of the planet’s hottest locales, that heat could quickly become deadly — and force many of the region’s 500 million inhabitants to join the growing ranks of people displaced by the changing climate.
A study recently published in the journal Climactic Change found that even if the international community meets its goal to slow the pace of global warming, it may not save some parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region from regularly reaching dangerously hot temperatures in the summer months. This kind of scorching heat can make daily life virtually impossible for residents.
“Due to the desert warming amplification” — a feedback loop that accelerates temperature increases in already-hot desert climates — “summers [will] become so hot in the MENA that human habitability is compromised,” study co-author Jos Lelieveld of Germany’s Max Planck Institute told Tech Insider.
In other climates, ground water accumulates when the weather is cool and wet, then evaporates as temperatures rise. The water vapor cools the air as it evaporates, somewhat mitigating the heat on the ground. This process is called evapotranspiration.
Lelieveld explained that the desert amplification effect on the region was “stronger than anticipated.” This means that as the globe heats up, the MENA will suffer considerably more.
And that’s how a region with a climate that is already inhospitable during much of the year could quickly become uninhabitable.
Mohamed Abd El Ghany/ReutersLelieveld and his co-authors assembled climate data from 1986 to 2005 and used that data set to test the predictive strength of over two dozen climate models. Those models not only agreed with each other, but accurately tracked with the historical record.
“This means the uncertainty is low,” Lelieveld said, so the researchers felt confident using the same tools to look into two possible scenarios that could unfold in the future.
The second scenario, often referred to as the “business-as-usual” scenario, assumes no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and continued reliance on fossil fuels. Lelieveld called this projection a worst-case scenario.
But the researchers found that for the Middle East, there was no good outcome. Alarmingly, even the results of the more conservative, mitigation-focused path forward were extreme.
Yaron Kaminsky/APFrom 1986 to 2005, there were about 16 days each year where the average temperature in the MENA region climbed to 109 degrees Fahrenheit.
And these unusually hot days are becoming hotter and more frequent.
The study projects that even with mitigation efforts, by 2050, about 80 days per year would have an average temperature of roughly 114 degrees.
That number could stay relatively stable if we curtail carbon emissions.
But in a business-as-usual scenario, temperatures that would be among today’s hottest would become the new normal. By 2100, the study predicts, there could be more than 200 days a year where the average temperature is 122 degrees.
If the MENA region gets as hot as this paper predicts it will, the nighttime temperature during the summer might not ever fall below 86 degrees, and heat waves could happen up to 10 times more frequently than they do now.
Heat waves are already endangering the lives of millions worldwide, both inside and outside of the MENA. Devastating droughts have been linked to the civil war in Syria and the displacement of over 2 million people in Yemen.
In either scenario, life in the MENA region— which includes some unstable hotspots — is likely to become untenable by the end of the century. Millions of residents will have to find somewhere else to go, and the already substantial influx of refugees to Europe could increase astronomically.
“Europe is currently learning how to cope with refugees from the MENA due to crises in the region; not very successfully as yet,” Lelieveld pointed out. “We will need to explain to the public and our politicians that climate change will aggravate this problem” — and force us to learn how to manage it better.