Climate refugees may become more and more common as the planet’s climate continues to heat up. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have calculated that the Middle East and North Africa could become so hot that humans simply won’t be able to live there.
More than 500 million people inhabit the Middle East and North Africa, two of the hottest areas on Earth. The number of extremely hot days has already doubled since the 1970s, heat waves are ten times more common, and the effects of climate change are drastically visible.
“In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy,” says Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and Professor at the Cyprus Institute.
He and his team calculated how temperatures would develop in the 21st century, and the results are deeply alarming. Even if the 2 degrees Celsius objective set in Paris is achieved, the areas will barely be livable. During the year’s warm periods, temperatures will not fall below 30 degrees Celsius at night (86 Fahrenheit), going as high as 46 degrees in daytime (114 degrees Fahrenheit) – and this is by 2050. By the end of the century, things will get even worse, with temperatures easily reaching 50 degrees and above.
In order to come up with this prediction, they analyzed climate data from 1986 to 2005, comparing it with 26 climate models over the same time period. They found that the predictions matched the observed data very well, and took the same approach for their own prediction.
The thing is, global warming doesn’t happen uniformly. A 2C global temperature increase doesn’t mean that temperatures go up by 2 degrees everywhere. Some areas are much more vulnerable than others, and it’s usually the extremes – the very cold and very hot areas are subjected to much more warming than the global average. For example, the Arctic is warming up at least twice as fast as the rest of the world. The world’s lakes are also heating up much faster than expected, and overall, the planet hasn’t heated so fast since 65 million years ago, at the end of the Mesozoic.
We still don’t fully understand the social effects climate change will undoubtedly have, but many areas of the world are already difficult to cope with, temperature wise. Adding a few degrees could simply make it unbearable – for half a billion people.
Journal Reference: J. Lelieveld et al. Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century, Climatic Change (2016). DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1665-6