Climate change could cause Middle East and North Africa to become uninhabitable by 2050, a new study has suggested.
Despite the agreement of international leaders in the recently concluded UN climate summit in Paris, researchers from the Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC) said it would not be enough to curb the looming effects of climate change. Rapid and frequent temperature rise and air pollution caused by dust storms would eventually force more than 500 million people to migrate.
Researchers, using climate models, calculated that the summer temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa would increase twice as fast than the average global temperature rises. South of the Mediterranean will have temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius (114.8 degrees Fahrenheit), which will occur about five times than what was seen before.
The study has found that the effect of climate change in the regions in the years to come may endanger the lives of its inhabitants, said Jos Lelieveld, a professor at Cyprus Institute and the director of MPIC.
Even if temperature rises are kept at 2 degrees Celsius, summer temperatures in the said regions will continue to increase twice as much. By 2050, warmest periods would mean daytime can be as hot as 46 degrees Celsius and evening temperatures of not less than 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). By the end of the century, midday temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) can become a common occurrence.
To properly predict the changes in temperatures, the researchers created two future scenarios: RCP4.5 scenario is based on the assumption that global greenhouse emission would decline by 2040 and global warming of 4.5 Watt per square meter (0.42 Watt per square foot) by 2100. RCP4.5 is widely based on the climate summit agreement that temperature rises would be kept at less than 2 degrees Celsius.
The other scenario, RCP8.5, the assumption was continuous increase in greenhouse gas emissions, with the mean surface temperature increasing by 4 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
The researchers found that in both scenarios, desert warming is greatly amplified that causes the regions' largest temperature increase to occur during the summer and not in winter like most of the other regions.
Evaporation of groundwater cannot cool the hot and dry surface and this result to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapor to increase excessively.
Lelieveld and his team also found that heat waves would increase tenfold. Researchers predicted that duration of hot days would become longer in the years to come. If from 1986 to 2005, hot days lasted an average of 16 days; by 2050 it could last up to 80 days. Before the century ends, the regions can have an average of 118 hot days.
The projections are likely to occur even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced after 2040, said Panos Hadjinicolaou, a climate change expert and an associate professor at Cyprus Institute. The heat spanning to 200 days is even possible if carbon dioxide emissions would persist.
Lelieveld said that worsening air pollution coupled with heat waves would drive people out of these regions. Their study has also noted that atmospheric desert dust in Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia has increased by as much as 70 percent since 2000 because of sandstorms caused by long periods of drought.
"Climate change will significantly worsen the living conditions in the Middle East and North Africa. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable, which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate," said Lelieveld.
Hadjinocolaou and Lelieveld both agree that worsening climate change jeopardizes the living conditions of people residing in the said regions. If no immediate action would be taken, these people will be eventually forced to leave their countries.
The study was published online in Climactic Change on April 23.