The Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East more sensitive to global warming: report

Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East regions are warming nearly twice as fast as the global average, according to a new report.

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 400 million people of the region, according to a summary of the report published on Tuesday.

The eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East are more susceptible to warming trends due to their unique natural characteristics, such as large desert areas and lower water levels, according to the study.

The report was prepared by an international group of scientists supervised by the Center for Climate and Atmospheric Research of the Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry. Originally published in June in the journal Reviews of Geophysics, it aims to highlight the impact of climate change in the region ahead of the UN climate summit in Egypt in November.

Arid climatic zones will expand northward and snow-capped mountains in more northern climates will decline during this century, said Dr George Zittis, co-author of the report. Although sea levels in the region are expected to rise at a rate similar to other global estimates, many Mediterranean countries are unprepared to deal with it, he said.

“This would involve serious challenges for coastal infrastructure and agriculture and could lead to the salinization of coastal aquifers,” Zittis warned. Saltier water from rising sea levels and low rainfall can seriously damage crops and fisheries.

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

The region is rapidly overtaking the European Union as a source of greenhouse gases and becoming a major emitter globally, the document suggests. China, the United States, 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 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) is achieved, this will limit temperature increase in the region to around 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the study. The report urges the region to rapidly reduce its dependence on greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the energy and transport sectors.

The study’s projections for the region are consistent with other scientific studies, including a major report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year. The UN climate report called the Mediterranean a “hotspot” of climate change, vulnerable to droughts, coastal erosion and heat waves.

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Teresa H. Sadler