Climate change impacts in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region and their implications for vulnerable population groups

Abstract

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region emerges as one of the hot spots for worsening extreme heat, drought and aridity conditions under climate change. A synthesis of peer-reviewed literature from 2010 to date and own modeling work on biophysical impacts of climate change on selected sectors shows that the region is highly affected by present and future climate change. These biophysical impacts paired with other pressures and a lack of resilience in some countries cause high vulnerabilities within these sectors and for social dimensions in the MENA region. The agricultural sector, of which 70 percent is rain-fed, is highly exposed to changing climatic conditions. This is of critical importance as the agriculture sector is the largest employer in many Arab countries and contributes significantly to national economies. Impacts will be high in a 2 °C world, as, e.g., annual water discharge, already critically low, is projected to drop by another 15–45% (75% in a 4 °C world) and unusual heat extremes projected to affect about one-third of the land area with likely consequences for local food production. As a consequence, deteriorating rural livelihoods associated with declining agricultural productivity will continue to contribute to migration flows, often to urban areas as already observed. The region could be heavily challenged by both rising food and water demand given its projected increase in population that may double by 2070. As a result, the regions already substantial import dependency could increase and thus its vulnerability to agricultural impacts well beyond its country borders. A severe and sustained pressure on resources could contribute to further social unrest in the already unstable political environment that currently characterizes parts of the region. While the particular societal responses to such changes are hard to foresee, it is clear that extreme impacts would constitute unprecedented challenges to the social systems affected.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Impacts in a “2°C World” or “with 2°C global warming” refer to the impacts assigned to a 2°C warming category which spans from 1.75°C to 2.25°C warming relative to pre-industrial temperatures in 1850-1900. Median warming for the full CMIP5 model ensemble under the RCP2.6 is about 1.6°C with 22 percent of the models projecting a warming above 2°C. Therefore we refer to the RCP2.6 as a “2°C World” or “2°C global warming”. For the estimation of heat extremes, precipitation, and aridity, this study uses a subset of the CMIP5 models (gfdl-esm2m, hadgem2-es, ipsl-cm5a-lr, miroc-esm-chem, noresm1- m) showing a median warming of 1.8°C above preindustrial levels by 2081–2100 for the RCP 2.6 scenario. Similarly, impacts in a “4°C world” refer to the impacts assigned to a 4°C warming category which relates to warming above 3.5°C relative to pre-industrial temperatures. The median warming of the RCP8.5 CMIP5 ensemble for the period 2081–2100 is 4.3°C, whereas the projected warming for the subset ensemble used for heat extremes, precipitation and aridity is 4.6°C above pre-industrial levels.

  2. 2.

    A subset of global climate models from the IPCC AR5 report was used in this study, with an IPCC AR5-like methodology to project sea level rise, expect for Antarctica, which was updated with more recent research, leading to more differentiated sea level projections between RCP2.6 and RCP8.5 scenarios. See Appendix A.2 in World Bank 2014a for further details on methods and models used.

  3. 3.

    Note that while we report model-based upper bounds in this report, other assessments, such as expert polling, lead to higher estimates. We thus suggest the reported uncertainties for sea-level be interpreted as the “likely” range (67%).

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Acknowledgements

The contribution of M. Fader was supported by the Labex OT-Med (no ANR-11-LABX-0061) and the A*MIDEX project (no ANR-11-IDEX-0001-02). This research has been partly funded by the World Bank.

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Correspondence to Katharina Waha.

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Waha, K., Krummenauer, L., Adams, S. et al. Climate change impacts in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region and their implications for vulnerable population groups. Reg Environ Change 17, 1623–1638 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-017-1144-2

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Keywords

  • Regional climate change
  • Rain-fed agriculture
  • Water scarcity
  • Migration
  • Heat extremes
  • Aridity
  • Health