Climate refugee numbers from North Africa and Middle East will explode say scientists

Climate refugee numbers from the Middle East and North Africa are set to explode, says an international team of scientists, as temperatures become unbearably hot and millions of people leave their home towns seeking more habitable climates.

Scientists from the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, have calculated that the two regions are likely to become too hot to live in.

Countries across the world have agreed to try to limit global warming to two degrees celsius higher than it was before the industrial revolution. In this latest study, the researchers explained in the journal Climate Change (citation below) that this target is not enough to prevent a mass climate-exodus from North Africa and the Middle East.

Unbearably hot climate refugee numbers set to explode by 2050There are 500 million people in North Africa and the Middle East. By 2050, many of them will find temperatures unbearably hot during the summer months, and are likely to migrate. (Image:

From already very hot to super hot

The Middle East and North Africa, which already have extremely hot summers, are expected to have temperatures rising at twice the world average global warming. They expect that by the middle of this century, hot day temperatures south of the Mediterranean will commonly reach approximately 46°C (114°F).

The number of days when such extremely high temperature are reached will occur five times more frequently compared to conditions in the year 2000.

Add to this extreme heat, the rising air pollution by windblown desert dust, and the environmental conditions are likely to become uninhabitable, forcing millions of people to migrate.

Over five hundred million humans live in North Africa and the Middle East – a region where it is extremely hot in summer and where climate change is already clearly evident.

The number of extremely hot days in the two regions has increased by a factor of two since 1970.

Climate refugee numbers will increaseUnbearably hot: the average temperature in winter will rise by around 2.5°C (left) by 2050, and in summer by around 5°C (right) if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase according to the business-as-usual scenario (RCP8,5). The cross-hatching indicates that the 26 climate models used are largely in agreement, and the dotting indicates an almost complete match. (Image:

Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, who is also a Professor at the Cyprus Institute, said regarding the future climate of the two regions:

“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.”

Prof. Lelieveld and colleagues set out to investigate how temperatures in North Africa and the Middle East would develop over the course of this century.

Deeply alarming results

Their findings are deeply alarming. Even if our planet’s average temperature increases by just 2°C compared to pre-industrial times, the temperature in these two regions will rise by more than twice as much, i.e. at least 4°C.

For a region in the world, which already has the hottest summers on the planet, to see July-August temperatures rising by 4°C, is devastating.

By 2050, during the warmest months, temperatures will remain above 30°C (86°F) at night, while during the daytime they are likely to reach 46°C (114°F).

By the end of the 21st century, daily maximums on hot days might even exceed 50°C (122°F).

Heatwaves to become more frequent and longer-lasting

The study also found that heatwaves will occur ten times more often by the end of this century, compared to today. Not only will the frequency of heatwaves increase dramatically, each one will also last much longer than now.

Over the 1986-to-2005 period, it was abnormally hot for an average of 16 days per year. By 2050, it will be unusually hot for an average of 80 days each year. The average number of abnormally-hot days per year by the end of this century will probably reach 118, even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced after 2040.

Climate change expert, Panos Hadjinicolaou, Associate Professor at the Cyprus Institute, said:

“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.”

Prof. Lelieveld, an atmospheric researcher, is certain that global warming (climate change) will have a dramatic impact on the environment and health of people in North Africa and the Middle East.

Prof. Lelieveld said:

“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.”

Fine particulate air pollution

Prof. Lelieveld and colleagues also published their findings on the increase of fine particulate air pollution in the Middle East. They found that since the year 2000, desert dust in the atmosphere over Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia has increased by up to seventy percent.

This rise is mainly due to an increase of sand storms resulting from prolonged droughts. Climate change is expected to trigger further increases, which will make environmental conditions worse in the region.

In their latest study, the researchers initially compared climate data from 1986-2005 with forecasts from 26 climate models over the same time-span (20 years).

They found that the model predictions and measurement data corresponded extremely well, which is why they used these models to predict climate conditions for the 2046-2065 and 2081-2100 periods.

Already hot summers to have largest temperature rises

The scientists based their calculations on two future scenarios:

Scenario 1: called RCP4.5, assumes that global greenhouse gas emissions will start to decline by 2040, and that our planet will be subjected to warming by 4.5 Watt per square metre by 2100.

This first scenario roughly corresponds to the target set at the most recent United Nations climate summit – limiting the average temperature increase compared to pre-industrial times by 2°C.

Scenario 2: called RCP8.5, is based on the assumption that global greenhouse gas emissions will continue increasing after 2040, hence it is also known as the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario. Earth’s mean surface temperature will rise by over 4°C compared to pre-industrial times.

In both scenarios, the greatest temperature rise in North Africa and the Middle East is expected during summer, when it is already extremely hot, and not during the cooler winter months, which is the case in most of the rest of the world.

This is mainly due to desert warming amplifications in regions such as the Sahara. Deserts are not good buffers of heat, which means that the dry and hot surface cannot cool by the evaporation of ground water.

As the surface energy balance is regulated by heat radiation, the greenhouse effect by gases such as CO2 (carbon dioxide) and water vapour will rise disproportionately.

Regardless of whether Scenario 1 or Scenario 2 becomes reality, the researchers all agree that climate change will lead to a considerable deterioration in living conditions for people living in the Middle East and North Africa. It is only a question of time, they believe, before we start seeing a mass exodus of climate-refugees from the two regions.

Citation: Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century,” J. Lelieveld, Y. Proestos, P. Hadjinicolaou, M. Tanarhte, E. Tyrlis, G. Zittis. Climate Change. 23 April 2016. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1665-6.

Video – Middle East unprepared for climate change

This CBC News video explains that scientists are worried about the consequences of global warming in the Middle East.