Article image

Ignoring climate change will lead to "ultra-extreme" heatwaves

In a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, experts report that ignoring the signs of climate change will lead to “ultra-extreme” heatwaves in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that are extremely damaging to human health and society. 

To assess the characteristics of emerging heatwaves in the MENA region, the researchers used a mix of climate projections designed exclusively for this geographic area. The team then projected future hot spells based on the Heat Wave Magnitude Index.

“Our results, for a business-as-usual pathway, indicate that in the second half of this century unprecedented super- and ultra-extreme heatwave conditions will emerge,” explained study lead author George Zittis of The Cyprus Institute. 

The researchers said that these events will involve excessively high temperatures of up to 56 degrees Celsius – or 132 degrees Fahrenheit – and higher in urban settings and could last for multiple weeks. The  consequences for humans and animals will be potentially life-threatening.

“By the end of the century, about half of the MENA population (approximately 600 million) could be exposed to annually recurring super- and ultra-extreme heatwaves,” wrote the experts. 

“The potential intensification of heatwaves in the already harsh, hot and arid MENA environment is expected to have direct negative impacts on human health, agriculture, the water and energy nexus, and many other socioeconomic sectors.”

“For example, heat stress can cause substantial loss of labor productivity and may also be linked to conflict and migration.” 

When it comes to animals, the researchers explained that livestock in the MENA region are very likely to be impacted since the majority of the camel, cattle, and goat populations are located in areas of high vulnerability.

“Vulnerable citizens may not have the means to adapt to such harsh environmental conditions,” noted study co-author Jos Lelieveld. “These heat waves combined with regional economic, political, social and demographic drivers 

have a high potential to cause massive, forced migration to cooler regions in the north.”

To avoid extreme heatwaves in the MENA region, the scientists are calling for immediate and effective climate change mitigation measures, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 

“There is an urgent need to make the cities more resilient to climate change,” said Zittis.

The study is published in the journal Climate and Atmospheric Science.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day