In June 2022, the distressing heat effects in Europe in particular were the focus of the latest bout of extreme weather events caused by climate change. In July alone, western news outlets reported dozens of stories on how the heatwaves were most seriously affecting Europeans: from threats to Britain’s economy and agricultural industry; to wildfires in Spain and Portugal; to reports of thousands of French residents being evacuated from their homes. One New York Times article even advised readers on how to cope with the changing European tourism landscape as climate change continues to morph the world we’ve always known.
It is true that Europe is targeted by extreme heat more than other mid-latitude areas, and this past summer caused many to confront the continent’s uncertain future in the wake of increasing climate change-fueled emergencies like heatwaves, especially when much of its infrastructure is not AC-equipped. However, while the news coverage from this summer should not be underestimated, it is important to recognize that the volume of mainstream media reporting on Europe’s heatwaves overwhelmingly overshadowed blazing heat crises in other parts of the world like the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
In Baghdad, temperatures soared to dangerous 50-degree Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) levels this summer, devastating Iraq’s already vulnerable electrical infrastructure. Iraq now ranks fifth on the list of countries most impacted by climate change, but it has been experiencing more extreme temperatures for years. In 2015, the Iraqi government announced a mandatory “heat holiday” on days above 50 degrees Celsius, and government workers were ordered to stay home. It has been mandating these holidays on extremely hot days since. A 2021 study conducted by the European Institute of Security studies estimated that Baghdad will experience 40 “extreme heat days” per year by 2039, roughly three times the number of annual extreme heat days it experiences now. Increasingly high temperatures will only continue to overwhelm an already fractured Iraq, especially as the country descends into more uncertainty after recent political clashes.
THERE IS STILL “LITTLE INTEREST AND FUNDING FOR STUDYING THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AND NORTH AFRICA REGION.”
In North Africa, across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain and Portugal, wildfires also raged in Morocco and Algeria, killing dozens and wounding hundreds, and causing still thousands more to be evacuated from the most fire-ridden areas. The wildfires prompted criticism over both countries’ lack of fire technology. This critique, however, is just a small part of the larger conversation on individual countries’ ability to adapt to skyrocketing temperatures and other climate change-induced effects — a challenge that low- and middle-income countries will most certainly struggle to meet.
One study predicts that, if nothing is done about climate change, the MENA region could see temperatures upwards of 56 degrees Celsius (132.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the second half of this century — just 28 years from now. By 2100, some urban centers could even see 60 degrees — all but guaranteeing near impossible living conditions as well as bubbling tensions due to drought, water woes, and food shortages. So, in the wake of these incredibly apocalyptic predictions, why didn’t the same alarm bells ring for the Middle East as they did for Europe?
To start, local climate data in the region is scarce. The same study that predicted the 56-degree Celsius temperatures—a conservative estimate—also argues that much of the scientific data on heatwave projections in the MENA region is “mostly based on global simulations at relatively coarse resolution” or “on regional modeling of the edges of European and Mediterranean model domains.” This reliance on European and global modeling devalues the unique “weather regimes” in the MENA region, specifically its distinct topographical landscape.
Another study underscores the cyclical harm that underreporting events like heatwaves into global disaster databases can lead to. The Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT), one of the largest of these databases, based in Belgium, records “technological and environmental disasters across the world” ranging from “extreme weather to earthquakes and oil spills, and record their impacts on lives, livelihoods, and economic costs.” A disaster is included in EM-DAT if it is reported to kill more than ten people, affect more than 100 people, cause a state emergency, or call for international assistance. However, extreme heat events in certain parts of the world are “not routinely monitored.” For example, during the week of Jul. 18 to Jul. 24, 2022, EM-DAT reported a heatwave for the whole of Europe, while heatwaves occurring during the same week in countries like Iraq went unrecorded in the database. This gap in reporting diminishes our understanding of how extreme heat can be so deadly, and it eliminates countries’ ability to create future heat action plans.
The only region that perhaps faces an even greater crisis of climate and weather-related modeling, data collection, and reporting than MENA is Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the same study, the EM-DAT lists “no more than two heatwaves in sub-Saharan Africa since the beginning of the 20th Century, leading to 71 recorded premature deaths,” while in contrast, the same database has reported over “83 heatwaves…in Europe over the same timeframe, contributing to more than 140,000 associated deaths.” Since heatwave mortality goes unreported, our understanding of the thresholds that result in heat-related deaths in these parts of the world is unclear.
Despite the dangers that come with data gaps like these, the case for researching more localized climate data in these regions is still weak. In a 2021 news release by the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, director of the Regional Models and geo-Hydrological Impacts division Paola Mercogliano admitted that there is still “little interest and funding for studying the impacts of climate change in the Mediterranean and North Africa region.”
Beyond the lack of available climate and weather data is the issue of data reporting by governments on heat events and heat-related illnesses and deaths. Some countries in the MENA region, particularly in the Gulf, have been notably unreliable at reporting instances of heat-related health impacts, specifically in the case of affected migrant workers and non-citizens. In Qatar, for example, a BBC investigation recently uncovered that the country has been underreporting the number of migrant workers who have died of heat stroke as temperatures climbed above 50 degrees Celsius this summer.
Of course, many regions outside the MENA region face the very real, present-day horrors of climate change. Reports from April 2022 showed that the Indian subcontinent was already experiencing temperatures upwards of 50 degrees Celsius; China dealt with a devastating, months-long drought; and a third of Pakistan was wiped out by “apocalyptic” flooding during its increasingly long and extreme monsoon season.
A lack of climate and weather-related modeling and data collection unequivocally played a role in the nearly nonexistent heatwave reporting by western news outlets we saw across the Middle East and North Africa this past summer. However, it’s only one piece of the story. Beyond modeling and data collection, there is a lack of willingness of western audiences to understand the bleak reality that vulnerable regions like MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa face, as well as how reporting inequities play a role in the future of these regions.
Rachel Santarsiero is a Spring 2022 Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the National Security Archive. She focuses on issues related to the Middle East as well as Climate Change and Security.
A man carries a fishing rod during sunset along the shoreline in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, 230 km (140 miles) north of Cairo, July 12, 2011. Alexandria, with 4 million people, is Egypt’s second-largest city and also one of the Middle East’s cities most at risk from rising sea levels due to global warming. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Climate change could devastate Mideast, East Mediterranean – scientists
NICOSIA, Sept 6 (Reuters) – Climate change could have a devastating effect on the lives of millions in the East Mediterranean and Middle East, where temperatures are rising nearly twice as fast as the global average, an international team of scientists warned.
The region could see an overall warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century on a business-as-usual scenario, a report prepared by the Cyprus Institute said.
That temperature spike was almost twice that anticipated in other areas of the planet, and faster than any other inhabited parts of the world, it said.
The report, prepared under the auspices of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Climate and Atmosphere Research Center of The Cyprus Institute, will be submitted at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) taking place in Egypt in November.
A combination of reduced rainfall and weather warming will contribute to severe droughts, compromising water and food security, with many countries unprepared for rising sea levels, one expert said.
“This (scenario) would imply severe challenges for coastal infrastructure and agriculture, and can lead to the salinization of costal aquifers, including the densely populated and cultivated Nile Delta,” said Dr. George Zittis of the Cyprus Institute, an author of the report.
Meeting the main targets of the Paris Agreement, a global pact of countries to cut emissions, could stabilize the annual temperature increase to about 2 degrees Celsius.
Scientists recommend rapid implementation of decarbonization actions with a particular emphasis on the energy and transportation sectors.
“Since many of the regional outcomes of climate change are transboundary, stronger collaboration among the countries is indispensable to cope with the expected adverse impacts,” said Jos Lelieveld, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, institute professor at the Cyprus Institute, and coordinator of the assessment.
Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Bernadette Baum
The ocean sustains all life on our planet. It provides food to eat and oxygen to breathe, while playing a key role in moderating our climate. But marine life is increasingly threatened by climate change. The ocean is becoming considerably warmer, affecting its ability to sustain life.
The searing temperatures seen around the Mediterranean this year are indicative of rising global temperatures. This is set to continue over the next century, contingent on how much CO₂ we continue to emit.
The International Energy Agency reported that global energy-related CO₂ emissions rose by 6% in 2021 to their highest ever level.
The Mediterranean has been subject to intense thermal conditions in recent years. This has taken a further severe step this year, with sea temperatures reaching a record 30.7°C off Corsica.
Because of the delay between undertaking and publishing ecological work, the most comprehensive study we have on Mediterranean marine heatwaves covers the period 2015-2019.
The study found that the sea temperatures recorded in the Mediterranean over the period were the highest since recording began in 1982. Of almost a thousand field surveys conducted, researchers found that 58% of them contained evidence of the widespread mortality of marine life, tightly linked to periods of extreme heat.
The research provides an insight into the future ecological impacts of marine heatwaves elsewhere. This is significant as substantial temperature increases are forecast for tropical and polar regions in particular.
While the ocean acts as a large carbon sink, we still face increases in the surface temperature of the sea ranging from 1–3°C before the end of the century. Linked to this overall warming are marine heatwaves of increasing frequency and intensity.
Much of the research on marine heatwaves finds that they affect certain habitats particularly strongly, including coral reefs, seagrasses and seaweeds. Marine heatwaves were found to be responsible for the loss of up to 80% of the population of some Mediterranean species between 2015 and 2019.
A mass mortality event is a single, catastrophic incident that rapidly wipes out vast numbers of a species. Around 88% of these events in the Mediterranean were associated with hard sea floor inhabitants, such as corals. However, seagrasses and the more diverse community of the soft sea floor were also severely effected, accounting for 10% and 2% of these events respectively.
Deaths in shallow water
More than two-thirds of the deaths of marine organisms occurring on the hard sea floor were in the shallowest waters. Marine environments with a depth of 0–25 metres are subject to particularly intense warming and are home to some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the Mediterranean, formed by coral-like organisms. Other research estimates that marine heatwaves have been responsible for the loss of 80–90% of Mediterranean coral density since 2003.
Foundation species tend to be habitat-forming organisms and are therefore critical in structuring an ecosystem. They act as nursery grounds, provide protection against predators, and serve as a food source. Foundation species are key to sustaining biodiversity, and their loss will have repercussions for other species. As foundation species, the loss of coral, seagrass and seaweed is particularly concerning.
It is not just intense heat stress that is causing mortality events. High water temperatures are associated with the proliferation of disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses. This may further reduce the ability of the ecosystem to adapt to extreme heat, contributing to additional ecological damage.
Migration of marine life
As well as prompting the widespread death of marine life, marine heatwaves often trigger migration. Warm-water invasive species will move towards the warmer areas, replacing species escaping the rising temperatures. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the exceptional temperatures seen across the Mediterranean this summer may be driving extensive mass migration.
In Greece, scientists have observed an increased abundance of invasive species from warmer waters. This includes the lionfish and silver-cheeked toadfish, both of which are toxic, and carry the potential to inflict considerable ecological damage.
Some research even suggests that invasive species in the eastern Mediterranean, where native populations have collapsed, will soon become the only ones capable of sustaining ecosystems.
There have also been sightings of non-native barracuda off France’s south coast. The invasion of predatory species, who find new prey while facing fewer predators, could considerably alter the functioning of the Mediterranean’s ecosystems, most likely to a less-rich form with lower species diversity.
However, while anecdotal evidence is plentiful, research into the ecological effects of marine heatwaves remains in its infancy. There needs to be further robust scientific studies on which to develop modelling of realistic future scenarios.
Within some branches of the scientific community, the recent intensity and frequency of marine heatwaves suggests we have arrived at a “climate endgame”. This involves preparation for the full consequences of widespread marine species mortality, should emissions not be curbed. The likely devastating Mediterranean marine heatwave of this year will only add fuel to such discussions.
Rich nations caused climate harm to poorer ones, study says
By Seth Borenstein and Drew Costley
The above-featured image is: The coal-fired Plant Scherer stands in the distance in Juliette, Ga., on June 3, 2017. A new study published in Climatic Change on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, calculates just how much climate-related loss richer countries have caused poorer countries through their carbon emissions. (AP Photo/Branden Camp, File)
For decades, environmental activists along with some government officials and scientists have argued that rich countries should pay the most to address climate change, and even pay poor countries reparations, because industrialized nations have historically emitted the most greenhouse gases.
A new study by two Dartmouth scientists aims to calculate just how much economic impact larger emitters have caused other nations. Published Tuesday in the journal Climatic Change, the study says the figures could be used in courtrooms and in international climate negotiations about payments from rich nations that burn more coal, oil and gas, to poor countries damaged by emissions.
Homeless people sleep in the shade of a bridge on a hot day in New Delhi, May 20, 2022. A new study published in Climactic Change on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, calculates just how much climate-related loss richer countries have caused poorer countries through their carbon emissions. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)
For example, the data shows that the top carbon emitter over time, the United States, has caused more than $1.9 trillion in climate damage to other countries from 1990 to 2014, including $310 billion in damage to Brazil, $257 billion in damage to India, $124 billion to Indonesia, $104 billion to Venezuela and $74 billion to Nigeria. But at the same time, the United States’ own carbon pollution has benefited the U.S. by more than $183 billion.
“Do all countries look to the United States for restitution? Maybe,” said study co-author Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College climate scientist. “The U.S. has caused a huge amount of economic harm by its emissions, and that’s something that we have the data to show.”
Developing nations have convinced rich nations to promise to financially help them reduce carbon emissions for the future, but haven’t been able to get restitution for damage already caused, a term called “loss and damage” in global climate talks. In those negotiations, the biggest carbon emitters, like the United States and China have had a “veil of deniability” that their actions caused specific damages, said study lead author Christopher Callahan, a climate impacts researcher at Dartmouth. This lifts that veil, he said.
“Scientific studies such as this groundbreaking piece show that high emitters no longer have a leg to stand on in avoiding their obligations to address loss and damage,” said Bahamian climate scientist Adelle Thomas of Climate Analytics, who wasn’t part of the study. She said recent studies “increasingly and overwhelmingly show that loss and damage is already crippling developing countries.
While carbon emissions have been tracked for decades on the national levels and damages have been calculated, Callahan and Mankin said this is the first study to connect all the dots from the countries producing the emissions to countries affected by it. The studies also tallies benefits, which are mainly seen in northern countries like Canada and Russia, and rich nations like the U.S. and Germany.
“It’s the countries that have emitted the least that are also the ones that tend to be harmed by increases in global warming. So that double inequity to me is kind of a central finding that I want to emphasize,” Callahan said.
To do the study, first Callahan looked at how much carbon each nation emitted and what it means for global temperatures, using large climate models and simulating a world with that country’s carbon emissions, a version of the scientifically accepted attribution technique used for extreme weather events. He then connected that to economic studies that looked at the relationship between temperature rise and damage in each country.
“We can actually fingerprint U.S. culpability on Angola’s economic outcomes,” Mankin said.
After the U.S. the countries that caused most damage since 1990—a date researchers chose because that’s when they say a scientific consensus formed and nations no longer had an excuse to say they didn’t know about global warming—are China ($1.8 trillion), Russia ($986 billion), India ($809 billion) and Brazil ($528 billion), study authors figured. Just the United States and China together caused about one-third of the world’s climate damage.
The five nations that were hit the most in overall dollars were Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia, but that’s because they had the biggest economies of nations in the most vulnerable hot zone. But the countries that took the biggest hit based on GDP are the UAE, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Mali, Callahan said. Brazil and India are also among the countries that produce the most emissions and damage and haven’t filed lawsuits to try to get repaid for climate damages.
The question of fairness over which countries make sacrifices and how to prepare for and repair climate impacts as the global community tries to slow warming has become more significant in recent international climate talks. Some nations, local communities and climate activists have called for the largest historical carbon emitters to pay ” climate reparations ” for the damage their economic gain has caused countries and communities that have already been negatively affected by systems of oppression, like colonialism and slavery. This study adds momentum to this idea, some in the climate in the community told The Associated Press.
“In this sense, the study reinforces arguments regarding loss and damage that are gaining traction” in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program for the Center for International Environmental Law, told the AP.
There has been push back at the international level from high-emissions countries about paying for loss and damages who worry that poor countries are not going to use climate finance as intended.
Still, Mankin said he hopes the study empowers “the powerless and in the face of global climate change.” But others in the climate community who have read the study said that more than information is needed to ensure that those most affected by climate change are compensated for their losses. The information and data in the study are valuable, they said, but it will take pressuring those responsible for shaping climate policy to actually get the richer nations to pay for the damage they’ve caused poorer nations.
Basav Sen, climate justice project director for the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think-tank, saw the study and said “demonstrating the link of causation is very helpful.”
But, he added, “it is only one piece in the popular pressure campaign needed to translate this information into actual financial flows from wealthier, higher-emitting countries to compensate lower-income countries experiencing more adverse climate impacts.”
Green water – the rainwater available to plants in the soil – is indispensable for life on and below the land. But in a new study, we found that widespread pressure on this resource has crossed a critical limit.
The planetary boundaries framework – a concept that scientists first discussed in 2009 – identified nine processes that have remained remarkably steady in the Earth system over the last 11,700 years. These include a relatively stable global climate and an intact biosphere that have allowed civilisations based on agriculture to thrive. Researchers proposed that each of these processes has a boundary that, once crossed, puts the Earth system, or substantial components of it, at risk of upset.
So far, it has been suggested that human use of freshwater is still within safe limits globally. But earlier assessments only considered the extraction of what is called blue water – that which flows in rivers and resides in underground aquifers. Even then, regional boundaries are likely to have been crossed in many river basins due to a sixfold increase in the extraction of blue water over the past century. Besides irrigating crops to sate growing demand from people and livestock, population growth and higher standards of living have raised global domestic and industrial water consumption, disrupting aquatic ecosystems and decimating the life within them.
By including green water in our assessment, we found that freshwater’s ability to sustain a stable Earth system is even more threatened than first reported.
Research shows that clearing forests reduces the flow of moisture to the atmosphere, dampening how efficiently the Earth system can circulate water and ultimately putting ecosystems like the Amazon at risk of collapse. Global heating and changes to how the land is used, especially deforestation, are among the biggest factors responsible for humanity’s transgression of this planetary boundary. Their combined influence indicates that the planetary boundaries interact and need to be treated as one networked system.
We found that since the industrial revolution, and especially since the 1950s, larger parts of the world are subject to significantly drier or wetter soil. This shift towards extreme conditions is an alarming development due to the indispensable role of water in maintaining resilient societies and ecosystems
Too much soil water is no good either. Water-saturated soils make floods more likely and suffocate plant growth. Abnormally large quantities of water evaporating from wet soils can delay the onset of monsoons in places like India, where the dry season has extended and disrupted farming. High humidity combined with high temperatures can also cause deadly heatwaves, as the human body quickly overheats when sweating becomes impossible in very moist air. Several regions, like South Asia, the coastal Middle East and the Gulf of California and Mexico, are experiencing this lethal combination much earlier than expected.
What can be done?
Growing scientific evidence suggests that the planet is both drier and wetter than at any point within the last 11,700 years. This threatens the ecological and climatic conditions that support life.
Our analysis shows that the sixth planetary boundary has been crossed. But ambitious efforts to slow climate change and halt deforestation could still prevent dangerous changes to the cycling of Earth’s green water. Along with other measures, switching farming practices to sustainable alternatives would prevent more soil being degraded and losing its moisture. Explicitly governing green water and its protection in policy and legal frameworks may also be necessary.
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