As millions of refugees continue to pour into Europe from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa to escape wars and oppression, researchers have just announced that the greatest migration from the region is likely still on the horizon. But in the future, instead of seeking refuge from violence, families in the Middle East and Africa might have to flee for a completely different reason: climate change.
According to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany and the Cyprus Institute, temperatures in the Middle East and North Africa will soon reach levels too high for human survival.
"The temperature during summer in the already very hot Middle East and North Africa will increase more than two times faster compared to the average global warming," the team said in a statement.
"This means that during hot days temperatures south of the Mediterranean will reach around 46 degrees Celsius [approximately 114 degrees Fahrenheit] by mid-century. Such extremely hot days will occur five times more often than was the case at the turn of the millennium."
The high temperatures, mixed with air pollutants and dust, could force many families to migrate to find better, more suitable conditions, the researchers explain.
To come to this troubling conclusion, the team studied previous climate data and used 26 different climate models to project how conditions in the Middle East would change from 2046 to 2065 and then from 2081 to 2100.
These projections were made using two separate scenarios: one that assumed greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 2040 (if everyone follows the UN guidelines) and one that had them continue to rise - a condition they refer to as "business-as-usual".
When all was said and done, the team found that the Middle East and Northern Africa will continue to experience a rise in temperature in both scenarios, and this rise will likely lead to a mass exodus, but to varying degrees.
"Climate change will significantly worsen the living conditions in the Middle East and in North Africa," says one of the team, atmospheric researcher Jos Lelieveld from the Max Planck and Cyprus Institutes. "Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable, which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate."
With over 500 million people living in the region, if catastrophic climatic events were to happen, it could trigger a migration larger than ever, which would have unseen effects on countless other regions, especially when you consider the problems Europe is currently facing with nowhere near that many refugees.
Though Lelieveld and his colleagues do not go into how this event would actually play out on the ground, it’s safe to say that it would change Europe and Asia forever.
The team’s full report was published in Climatic Change.