Climate chaos: Extreme heat, wildfires and record-setting storms suggest a frightening future is already here.
Brutal heat waves and extreme weather events have been gripping the Middle East, Europe and the United States over the past few weeks, with heat forecast to strike China in late August.
Historic heat waves and wildfires in much of the western world as well as massive flooding in the Gulf region are unprecedented and concurrent extreme conditions that resemble the chaotic climate future scientists have been warning us about for decades — only it’s happening right now.
Worst of all, this is just the start of a trend. The Middle East is warming at twice the global average, and by 2050 will be 4 degrees Celsius warmer as compared with the 1.5 degree mark that scientist have prescribed to save humanity.
About 7.68% of the globe’s land and ocean surfaces experienced a record-high June temperature. This was the highest percentage for June since records began in 1951, surpassing the previous record set in 2010 (7.37%). (Image credit: NOAA/NCEI)
Over the last few weeks, record-breaking temperatures and vicious wildfires swept through western Europe and the United Kingdom, in what may be one of the region’s most extreme heat waves on record. Hundreds of people have already died, and the heat is expected to linger on in some parts of Europe.
Climate change has led to more frequent and worsening heat waves around the world, with western Europe particularly impacted. The region’s heat waves are increasing in frequency – about three times faster and in intensity four times faster than in the rest of the midlatitudes, according to a recent study.
Michael Mann, a distinguished Climate scientist who last year witnessed the devastating wildfires in Australia, compared similar scenes to what is playing out in California in the US right now. For years Mann has sounded the alarm about the acceleration of human-caused climate change, but even he is somewhat surprised at the pace.
“In many respects, the impacts are playing out faster and with greater severity than we predicted,” he said.
The World Bank says extreme climatic conditions will become routine and the Middle East region could face scorching heat waves and extreme weather events every year.
According to Germany’s Max Planck Institute, many cities in the Middle East may literally become uninhabitable before the end of the century.
The annual UN climate change conference, known as COP27 and held in Egypt this year, will throw a spotlight on the impacts of climate change on the region. Governments across the Middle East have started waking up to the dangers and realities of climate change, particularly to the damage it is already inflicting on their economies.
Fingerprints of climate change
Heat waves are just one of the types of extreme weather climate change becoming more frequent, but this has already led to deaths in Europe, the US and around the world this year.
The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world — and the impact of climate change is already being seen and felt.
Hotter, more frequent heatwaves and droughts
Temperatures in the Middle East have risen far faster than the world’s average in the past three decades. Precipitation has been decreasing, and experts predict droughts will come with greater frequency and severity.
Last year, the Kuwaiti city of Nuwaiseeb recorded the highest temperature in the world so far this year at 53.2C (127.7F). In neighbouring Iraq, temperatures reached 51.6C (124.8F) on 1 July 2021, with Omidiyeh, Iran, not far behind with a maximum temperature of 51C (123.8F) recorded so far. Several other countries in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia, recorded temperatures higher than 50C (112F) in June.
After a week where temperatures in Britain hit 40 degrees celsius for the first time in history, heat waves have become a reality even for those living in what were once cooler areas.
Tourists from the Middle East that once flocked to Europe to escape the heat at home are now sweating in cities like London, Rome and Madrid. Scorching temperatures and extreme weather in Europe mean summer vacations may be replaced by fall holidays for many from the Middle East in the coming near future.
The Middle East region has also been subject to continuous drought since 1998, according to NASA, which says the current dry period is the worst in 900 years. The World Bank, which is spending $1.5 billion to fight climate change in the region, estimates that 80-100 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2025.
As sand and dust storms continue to terrify people in the Middle East, the serious effects of drought and desertification are only set to intensify.
This comes as global warming has the potential to make decreases in rainfall more permanent, adding to devastating effects on ecology.
The Middle East has been hit with a wave of unprecedented heat and forest fires. We have witnessed nearly double the average number of forest fires in the region, as well as an increase in their intensity and destruction.
These extreme weather events have led to huge losses in human lives, biodiversity (especially forests), and forced migrations, not to mention worsening of air quality during a global pandemic. The wildfires that are raging across Europe and North America, a testament that climate change affects the Middle East as much as any other corner of the globe.
Concurrent blazes in the Middle East and North Africa, a region better known for dry and hot deserts than for serene forests, have received far less attention. Nonetheless, summer by summer, global warming is starting to make its presence felt over the Middle East.
Algeria, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey have experienced their own wildfires in the last few years. This problem has become a region-wide environmental issue, which may provoke further cooperation actions between the governments of the Middle East and North Africa.
The severity with which these wildfires have jumped from one country to another in the last few years suggests that the Middle East and North Africa will have to brace themselves for a deadly summer this year and coming years.
More and more sandstorms are hitting countries in the Middle East, with officials blaming climate change, desertification and poor water management. The region loses about $13 billion a year because of sandstorms, which damage buildings, powerlines and other vital infrastructure, kill crops and interrupt transportation. Because of the Middle East’s importance to the global economy from the standpoint of international trade, especially energy supplies, countries far from the Gulf also will pay a steeper price as the phenomenon exacerbates.
Experts argue more needs to be done and if countries don’t act soon, the consequences for the region will be devastating. In an increasingly climate-stressed planet, storms in these mostly desert countries, which exist in a dust belt, are set to intensify. What comes with these exacerbated ecological crises are increasingly dire threats to human health, economies, and security in the Gulf.
These ecologically disastrous conditions in the Gulf are merely the latest sign of the dangers that climate change and other related factors pose to the Middle East. Though, some nations are working to fight the dust storms, with Saudi Arabia committing to planting 10 billion trees and Abu Dhabi launching a web-based modelling system that provides near-real-time maps of concentrations of atmospheric dust.
Flash flooding and rising sea levels
Climate change has led to incredibly rare July thunderstorms hitting UAE, Qatar, and other parts of the Gulf. Unusual heavy rains and flooding have struck several Gulf countries in the past weeks, in areas more noted for summer scorching heat and drought.
Qatar, the host of this year’s FIFA World Cup 2022, was hit by a rare thunderstorm and downpours. Online footage showed vehicles wading through a flooded coastal road. The small nation has witnessed unusual rainy weather since early on Thursday, Qatar’s state news agency QNA reported.
Social Media user including HE Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani in Qatar shared concern and images from Qatar storm and rain attributing to climate change like many others. (Photo by Sheikha Al Mayassa Al Thani Twitter Account)
Heavy downpours have forced the UAE to battle floods as it recorded its wettest weather in decades, while neighbouring Saudi Arabia reported torrential rain and thunderstorms.
At least seven people were killed in the United Arab Emirates after unseasonable downpours triggered flash flooding in eastern city of Fujairah.
More than 1,885 people have been displaced, and seven people have died in the UAE amidst the heavy rains and flooding, according to an Al Arabiya report.
The floods and rains in the UAE have left behind damages to property and infrastructure. (Khaleej Times)
Al Jazeera reported that for the months of the summer, much of the Arabian Peninsula doesn’t expect to see downpours, instead facing a hot, dry and dusty summer. Monsoon rains only affect some parts when rain bursts out of India, notably affecting Oman and Yemen, which have regular summer thunderstorms.
Hence, the unexpected rains seen in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are unprecedented and a cause for concern amid an uncertain future.
The World Bank report declared in 2016 that the MENA region is among the most vulnerable places on earth to rising sea levels, forecasting a 0.5-metre rise by 2099.
A rise in sea levels makes Middle East countries increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Alexandria in Egypt is one of the regions facing problems of rising sea levels and salt inundation.
From Rabat to Kuwait and Dubai, including all North Africa and most of the Levant, the majority of the Arab world’s capital cities and large metropolises are located on at-risk coastal areas or nearby, and are becoming increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels.
But this is a particularly important problem in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf region, where most capitals are coastal cities and where several of the fastest-growing cities such as Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai are located on low-lying coastal zones or islands.
Fast-expanding cities in the Gulf – not so long ago fishing villages and now home to a dizzying array of some of the tallest buildings on earth – are concerned about rising seas and ambitious development projects being reclaimed by the sea and are particularly worried about the impact of increased temperature.
COP27 in the Middle East and way forward
As countries move toward COP27, momentum from the last conference has appeared to slow.
On emission cuts, the spike in world energy prices and the war in Ukraine have prompted some European countries to turn back to coal for power generation — though they insist it’s only a temporary step.
Notably, one of the outcomes of COP26 was the finalisation of the Paris Rulebook.
Egypt now faces various expectations in November. As the first developing world UN Climate Summit since Marrakech in 2016, there are hopes that the priorities of developing countries will be placed front and centre. These include climate adaptation, climate finance, and loss and damage (L&D), among others.
It is clear that human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and is affecting the lives of billions of people around the world, as per the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
As extreme weather conditions occur more frequently, this causes cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. To avoid mounting loss of life, biodiversity and infrastructure, urgent, ambitious, and accelerated action is required to adapt to climate change, while at the same time making rapid, deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Doha News, its editorial board or staff.