Countries in the Middle-East which generally grapples with high heat during summer have witnessed remarkably warm summer months in recent years. Even by these standards the temperatures this year have been particularly scorching.
High temperatures in Kuwait and Iraq alarmed meteorologists last month. On 22 July, the mercury climbed to 53.8 °C in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, while a day earlier, it reached 54°C in Mutribah, Kuwait. If confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, the two temperatures would be the hottest ever recorded in the Eastern Hemisphere.
In Iraq, temperatures in the capital have been recorded to be 43 degrees or higher nearly every day since June 19. The city has been 10 to 20 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. Across the country farmers are reporting water scarcity and wilting crops.
Parts of the United Arab Emirates and Iran also experienced a heat index — a measure of how hot it really feels by factoring in relative humidity with actual air temperature — that soared to 140 degrees in July, well above what are considered extreme danger levels. During the same period, Jiddah in Saudi Arabia also recorded an all-time high temperature of nearly 52°C.
The immediate cause of all this misery is blamed on an unrelenting high-pressure system that refuses to budge, but a fundamental shift in the region’s weather patterns also appears to be taking place. In many places in the region, the number of days with temperatures at 48 degrees or higher has more than doubled in recent years.
Records going back 40 years show that such high temperatures previously remained for four or five days a year, by then, the wind would kick up dust and that would cool the surface. That does not appear to be happening any more.
A recent study predicted that heat waves in parts of the Persian Gulf could threaten human survival toward the end of the century. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia recently predicted a similarly grim fate for the Middle East and North Africa, a vast area currently home to about a half-billion people.
The region’s governments are generally not prepared to deal with rapidly growing populations and climactic shifts. For years, they have failed to address these problems adequately despite warnings from climate experts and UN agencies, and it may be too late now.
With the United Nations predicting that the combined population of 22 Arab countries will grow from about 400 million to nearly 600 million by 2050, and scientists warning of lower rainfall and saltier groundwater from rising sea levels, the already acute water crisis in the region could become exacerbated by continued dry climates, surging consumption and wasteful agricultural practices.
If climate skeptics needed any convincing on the reality of global warming, spending the last few months in the Middle-East would have helped persuade them. But then, the naysayers are probably too dense on top and thick-skinned below to feel the effect of any heat.
While most world leaders are growing increasingly concerned about the impacts of climate change on the world, there are some who are still not willing to accept it and make serious commitments to tackle climate change. Among the first questions that Prime Minister Theresa May's newly appointed Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, is reported to have asked her officials was: “Is climate change real?”
But climate skeptics are increasingly becoming irrelevant to climate change discussions; it is too late to try and convince the naysayers and moreover too much is at stake now, to waste time trying to get them on board.
Climate scientists and sensible world leaders need to move on, and the question they need to be asking going forward is no longer “how the weather is changing” but rather “by how much has weather changed.”
Higher temperatures and widespread weather related catastrophes were not limited to the Middle-East; the planet’s record-breaking temperatures every month of this year have taken scientists by surprise
The first six months of this year averaged 1.3 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, compared to the ambition agreed at the Paris climate summit in December to limit warming to as close to 1.5C as possible. This target now seems overly optimistic, particularly as the actual action promised by countries could see the world’s average surface temperature rise by up to 3.1C, according to a recent analysis.
Every month this year has set a new record high temperature for the month, continuing a streak that now extends over 14 months. Though scientists had predicted moderate warmth for 2016, what they did not anticipate was for these huge temperature jumps.
Scientists admit that their models of future warming had failed to predict the high temperatures recorded this year and it is quite likely that they probably underestimated how hot the world will get in future.