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Too Hot To Live In The Gulf? Don’t Be So Sure

Daniel Bardsley, The National

‘These kind of scare stories crop up whenever a UN climate-change conference is looming’

ABU DHABI // Scientists say that there is significant disagreement about how climate change will affect the Gulf region, after one published study raised fears about high temperatures and humidity at the end of the century.

Effects on particular regions of the world are especially difficult to forecast, specialists say, because most work is focused on the potential effects of climate change globally.

The new research, by two scientists based in the United States, said that high temperatures and humidity in the Gulf at the end of this century could make it difficult for people to be outdoors during certain periods.

Published in Nature Climate Change, the work predicted that “wet-bulb temperatures”, which combine the actual temperature with the moisture level, could regularly exceed 35°C.

At this wet-bulb temperature, which combines heat of 46°C and humidity of 50 per cent, the body would not be able to cool itself by sweating and other natural methods.

Climate-change researcher and University of Sharjah assistant professor, Dr Tarek Merabtene, who was not involved in the work, said there remained “a high level of uncertainty” about what the Gulf’s climate would be like in future.

While cautioning that he had not read the latest piece of research, he said there was “a very clear discrepancy” between various studies that have been published and actual climate data for the region.

“The uncertainty of whatever’s being published today is over 50 per cent,” he said. “Some are saying it’s going to be more dry. There are others who are saying floods will occur often. In all of these there’s a clear uncertainty.”

The new study, written by Dr Jeremy Pal of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Prof Elfatih Eltahir of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, included climate forecasts for Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Al Ain, Doha and Kuwait, as well as locations in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

“Our results expose a specific regional hot spot where climate change, in the absence of significant mitigation, is likely to severely impact human habitability in the future,” the authors wrote.

Unless greenhouse-gas emissions are cut, in the UAE’s major cities the wet-bulb temperature would, several times between 2071 and 2100, exceed the level at which humans could survive, they wrote. Days when temperatures exceeded 45°C would become “the norm” in most low-lying cities of the Gulf region and in Al Ain temperatures were forecast to exceed even 60°C at times. A normal summer day in most of the Gulf region would be as hot as the warmest 5 per cent of today’s summer days.

The study also predicted that, when it is held in summer, the Haj pilgrimage would become “hazardous to human health”, especially for elderly pilgrims, with “extreme conditions”, where the temperature rose above 55°C.

Poorer countries in the region, such as Yemen, would probably experience deaths among children and the elderly because of a combination of heat and reduced availability of technology such as air conditioners.

In making their predictions, the scientists used temperature increases as forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They said climate change would “make the present harsh desert environment even harsher” and would constrain development in coastal areas.

However, the authors said that countries in the region could benefit from efforts to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and, in turn, temperature rises.

Other scientists highlighted the difficulty involved in making predictions.

There is “considerable uncertainty” about the world’s climate at the end of this century, said Prof Christoph Schar, chairman of the Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, who wrote a commentary in Nature Climate Change to accompany the new study.

“There is some discussion about how much global warming will be in 100 years’ time, but globally, which is easier to predict than the regional impact,” he said.

But, he said, the model used in the latest study was “quite reliable” and had been “well tested”. While the actual climatic effects could turn out to be less severe than those predicted, he said the outcome could end up being more extreme.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation, the London-based organisation set up by Lord Lawson, a former British finance minister who wrote a book sceptical of claims about man-made climate change, dismissed the latest study.

The group’s director, the social anthropologist Benny Peiser, said: “These kind of scare stories crop up” whenever a UN climate-change conference is looming, a reference to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris that begins at the end of next month.

“I very much doubt there’s much to it,” he said of the latest research.

“The fact of the matter is that warming over the last 50 years is much slower than most computer models predict. The models are wrong and the observations are more reliable than the models.”

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