A new international study has predicted that if climate change is ignored and business continues as usual, then the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will experience extreme and life-threatening heatwaves with excessively high temperatures of up to 56°C and higher in urban settings. These heatwaves could last for multiple weeks and be potentially life-threatening for humans and animals.
The study, which assessed emerging heatwave characteristics, was led by scientists from the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center (CARE-C) of The Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, with the contribution of researchers from the CMCC Foundation – Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change and other research institutes, mainly from the MENA region.
“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,” explained George Zittis of The Cyprus Institute, first author of the study.
According to the study, in the second half of the century, about half of the MENA population, or approximately 600 million people, could be exposed to annually recurring extreme weather conditions, which will affect health, agriculture, biodiversity.
The research team used a first-of-its-kind multi-model ensemble of climate projections designed exclusively for the geographic area. The researchers then projected future hot spells and characterized them with the Heat Wave Magnitude Index, which allows quantifying the intensity of single events, considering both their duration and the temperature anomaly.
Such detailed downscaling studies had been lacking for this region. “The scientific community dealing with regional climate modelling is mainly concentrated in Europe and North America, and there is still little interest and funding for studying the impacts of climate change in the Mediterranean and North African region,” explained Paola Mercogliano, director of the Regional Models and geo-Hydrological Impacts division at the CMCC Foundation.
“Having such an important and detailed study on this area, which is still poor in terms of data and scientific knowledge on climate change, is a great success for us. At CMCC, we believe in the importance of advancing scientific research in the Mediterranean region, which is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and we are investing strengths and resources to provide these countries with data that can allow them to know more about the characteristics of their future climate and to act accordingly,” Mercogliano added.
To avoid such extreme heat events in the region, the scientists recommend immediate and effective climate change mitigation measures. It is expected that in the next 50 years, almost 90% of the exposed population in the MENA will live in urban centers, which will need to cope with these societally disruptive weather conditions.