UK – An increase of just 2°C (3.6°F) in global temperatures could make the world considerably drier and more desert-like, new research has warned.
More than a quarter of the world’s land surface, home to more than 1.5 billion people, would become more arid and droughts and wildfires could be widespread.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) would dramatically reduce the percentage of the Earth’s surface affected, scientists found.
Aridity is a measure of the dryness of the land surface, obtained from combining precipitation and evaporation.
‘Aridification would emerge over 20 to 30 per cent of the world’s land surface by the time the global temperature change reaches 2ºC (3.6ºF)’, said Dr Manoj Joshi from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Sciences and one of the study’s co-authors.
The research team studied projections from 27 global climate models and identified areas of the world where aridity will substantially change.
The areas most affected areas are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia.
These areas are home to more than 20 per cent of the world’s population – that’s over 1.5 billion people.
The study looked at the current rate of global temperature increase and compared it to data from before the industrial revolution.
The world has already warmed by 1°C (1.8°F) since then.
Two thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5ºC (2.7°F), researchers found.
Dr Chang-Eui Park, a co-author of the study from the Southern University of Science and Technology in China said another way to look at the potential changes is as a ‘continuous moderate drought’.
‘Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity’, said Dr Park.
‘It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires – similar to those seen raging across California.’
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, it is an international agreement to control climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.
It seems the more ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) may be more important than ever, according to the new findings.
In June, President Trump announced his intention for the US, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, to withdraw from the agreement.
A drier world may become a reality and the horrific scenes of the Californian wildfires may become more common.
The fire scorched more than 440 square miles of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and destroyed more than 1,000 structures after breaking out in early December.
Drought is one of the biggest concerns in some parts of the world, where rainfall is rare and water scarce.
Some parts of Kenya, for example, can go an entire year without a drop of rain.
Dr Jeong said: ‘By reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in order to keep global warming under 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) or 2ºC (3.6ºF) could reduce the likelihood of significant aridification emerging in many parts of the world.’