Middle East heating almost twice as fast as global average, report warns

Temperatures predicted to rise up to 5ºC by end of century, causing severe droughts, dust storms; UN climate summit in Cairo scheduled for November

Illustrative: Sunset near southeast coastal city of Larnaca on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on September 5, 2022. (AP/Petros Karadjias, File)
Illustrative: Sunset near southeast coastal city of Larnaca on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, on September 5, 2022. (AP/Petros Karadjias, File)

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The eastern Mediterranean and Middle East are warming almost twice as fast as the global average, with temperatures projected to rise up to five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century if no action is taken to reverse the trend, a new report says.

The region will experience “unprecedented” heat waves, more severe and longer-lasting droughts and dust storms and rainfall shortages that will “compromise water and food security” for the region’s 400 million people, according to a summary of the report released Tuesday.

The eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East are more susceptible to warming trends because of their unique natural characteristics, like large desert expanses and lower water levels, the study said.

The report was prepared by an international group of scientists overseen by The Cyprus Institute’s Climate and Atmosphere Research Center and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Originally published in June in the journal Reviews of Geophysics, it aims to underscore the impact of climate change in the region ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Egypt this November.

Arid climate zones will expand northward and snow-capped mountains in more northern climes will diminish during this century, said Dr. George Zittis, who co-authored the report. Although the sea level in the region is projected to rise at a pace similar to other global estimates, many Mediterranean countries are unprepared to deal with it, he said.

“This would imply severe challenges for coastal infrastructure and agriculture and can lead to the salinization of coastal aquifers” warned Zittis. Saltier water from rising sea levels and low rainfall can severely damage crops and fisheries.

Hajji Wali Jan, 66, carries plastic containers for water on his way to his house during a drought in Kamar Kalagh village outside Herat, Afghanistan, November 26, 2021. (AP/Petros Giannakouris, File)

The region’s most vulnerable groups, including the elderly, children and pregnant people, will face major health challenges, said Max Planck Institute Director Jos Lelieveld, who was part of the study. Many European nations already have initiatives to aid vulnerable people in extreme weather.

The region is rapidly overtaking the EU as a source of greenhouse gases and becoming a major emitter on a global scale, the paper suggests. China, the US, India and the EU are currently the world’s largest emitters. Several Mediterranean countries are also part of the European bloc.

If the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) is met, it would limit the temperature increase in the region to about 2ºC (3.6ºF), the study said. The report urged the region to quickly reduce its reliance on greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the energy and transportation sectors.

The study’s projections for the region are in line with other scientific studies, including a major report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year. The UN’s climate report termed the Mediterranean as a climate change “hotspot” which is vulnerable to droughts, coastal erosion and heat waves.

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