Climate refugees expected from Middle East, North Africa

Climate change could make parts of the Middle East and North Africa uninhabitable, leading to an exodus of climate refugees. The 2C targets agreed at the UN climate summit in Paris is not enough to prevent this scenario.

The Middle East and North Africa could become so hot as to compromise human habitability, according to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia. Their calculations show that the temperature during the already very hot summer months will increase more than two times faster compared to the average global warming.

The results are sobering: during hot days, temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa will reach around 46 degrees Celsius by mid-century, and such extremely hot days will occur five times more often than was the case at the turn of the millennium, according to a press release. Combined with increased air pollution from desert dust, the environmental conditions could become intolerable, forcing people to migrate.

“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.

Leliveld and his colleagues found that even if Earth’s temperature were to increase on average by only two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times – as agreed upon at the UN climate talks in Paris last December – the temperature in summer in the Middle East and North Africa would still increase more than twofold. By mid-century, temperatures will not fall below 30 degrees at night during the warmest periods. By the end of the century, midday temperatures on hot days could even reach 50 degrees Celsius.

The researchers also found that heat waves would occur ten times more often than they do now – and they would last for much longer.

“If mankind continues to release carbon dioxide as it does now, people living in the Middle East and North Africa will have to expect about 200 unusually hot days, according to the model projections,” says Panos Hadjinicolaou, associate professor at the Cyprus Institute. This is dramatically higher than the average of 80 days per year between 1986 and 2005.

“Climate change will significantly worsen the living conditions in the Middle East and in North Africa. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable, which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate,” says Lelieveld.

 

Image credit: Molly John, flickr/Creative Commons

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