Billions of people will experience ‘near unliveable conditions’ within 50 years if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut

Yvonne O'Halloran

Research that included a team of scientists from China, the USA and Europe have discovered that areas of the planet will become as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara Desert within 50 years if greenhouse gas emissions do not decrease. The article- published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the rapid heating would mean that 3.5 billion people would live in these extreme conditions and outside of the normal temperatures humans have thrived in.

As the research article states “Global warming will affect ecosystems as well as human health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, and economic growth in many ways.”

There is something known as the environmental niche which every species has, humans being no exception.  Populations of humans are largely concentrated in narrow climate bands, with most people living in places where the average annual temperature is between 11-15°C with a smaller number of people living in temperatures between 20-25°C and this has been the case now for over 6000 years. Humans can, and do live in warmer and colder places that the 11-15°C sweet spot but the farther from this average temperature, the harder it gets.

Professor Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University said that this constant climate niche is likely what humans need to survive and thrive. If temperatures continue to rise as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures experienced by the average person will have risen by 7.5°C by 2070. This will mean that within 50 years, the average temperature will be above 29°C in up to 19% of the planets land area (currently these climate conditions are only in 0.8% of global land surface in the hottest areas of the Sahara desert which includes Mecca and Saudi Arabia).

This would leave 3.5 billion people in ‘near un-liveable conditions’. The results show that some areas will be uninhabitable, including places like Brazil, the Middle East and India. However, although those living in the poorest nations will be hit the hardest, the US, parts of Australia and Europe will also feel the heat.

Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could halve the number go people exposed to these hot conditions. The study’s co-author Tim Lenton who is a climate specialist and Director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter said “Our computations show that each degree warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche. It is important that we can now express the benefits of curbing greenhouse gas emissions in something more human than just monetary terms.”

The researchers predict that nearly 3.5 billion people are likely to live in climate conditions that are ‘warmer than conditions deemed suitable for human life to flourish.’ Unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced, the average global temperatures could rise beyond the climate ‘niche’ – 11-15°C

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