If global warming is kept to 2°C, over 80% of the estimated heat-related deaths in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by the end of the century might be avoided, according to a modelling study that was published in The Lancet Planetary Health.
By the end of the century, it is projected that MENA will have an annual death rate from heat-related causes of about 123 per 100,000, which is about 60 times higher than present rates and significantly higher than estimates under comparable scenarios worldwide.
About 80% of these deaths, however, may be prevented if global warming is kept to 2°C, demonstrating the urgent need for stronger adaptation policies and a shift to renewable technologies.
As the world gears up for COP28 in Dubai in November, the findings are released.
Maximum temperatures in the MENA are expected to soar to about 50°C by the end of the century, potentially rendering certain areas uninhabitable and making the region one of the most climate-vulnerable in the world.
Despite this sensitivity, little is known about how heat stress affects this area and how it is getting worse due to climate change.
An international research team, including members from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), modelled past (2001 to 2020) and present (2021 to 2100) trends in heat-related mortality in 19 MENA nations. The team’s assessments took into account various socioeconomic situations as well as variations in the levels of possible greenhouse gas emissions throughout time.
Much of the MENA region would see significant warming by the 2060s under high emissions scenarios (as described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Shared Socioeconomic Pathways.
In fact, according to SSP5-8.5, the annual rate of mortality from heat-related causes will increase from the present two deaths per 100,000 people to 123 deaths per 100,000 people between 2081 and 2100. MENA currently has relatively few heat-related deaths compared to other regions (two per 100,000 versus 17 per 100,000 in Western Europe or 10 per 100,000 in Australasia, for example), but under similar climate change scenarios, this rise is anticipated to be much higher than other regions of the world.
By the 2080s, it is anticipated that the UK will experience an increase from its present rate of three per 100,000 to nine per 100,000.
Under SSP5-8.5, Iran is anticipated to have the highest yearly death rate in the MENA region (423 per 100,000), with high rates also anticipated for Israel, Palestine, and Iraq (186, 169 and 163 per 100,000, respectively). The United Arab Emirates and Qatar, two smaller Gulf republics, will have the largest proportionate rise in heat-related fatalities.
Nonetheless, the team estimates that over 80% of the total 123 annual anticipated heat-related deaths per 100,000 people might be averted for the MENA region as a whole if global warming can be kept to 2°C as defined by SSP1-2.6.
The authors come to the conclusion that stronger mitigation and adaptation measures must be adopted, both at COP28 and beyond, with much greater urgency if MENA is to escape the worst effects of future warming.
They caution that relying solely on conventional heat adaptation techniques like air conditioning will not be sufficient. For instance, countries like Israel and Cyprus, where rates of heat-related mortality are greater than the area norm, use air conditioning to a comparatively high extent.
If MENA is to successfully adapt to a changing climate, demographic policies and healthy ageing will also be essential. Population expansion in MENA will be a significant driver of expected heat-related mortality.
Professor of Global Environmental Health at LSHTM and principal author Shakoor Hajat stated that in order to prevent the catastrophic health effects that our study estimates, global warming must be kept to a maximum of 2°C. Countries in the region must create strategies other than air conditioning to safeguard their citizens from the risks of high heat, even with tougher action.
“Tackling the health effects of climate change in the region would need strengthening health systems and improved collaboration amongst MENA nations. The upcoming COP28 provides an opportunity to have discussions about how the region’s nations might cooperate more effectively to increase resilience to climate change.