As I watch from my beautiful Middle Eastern perch at the top of Mt Carmel in Israel, I must ponder the interaction of the two greatest's threats to humanity in the region: anthropogenic climate change (ACC) and conflict.

First, let's examine why the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the climate change hotspot.

Observations to date show that there has been an increase in heatwaves, dry spells and drought.

A number of us recently looked at trends in warm spells over the globe.

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The figure below shows that these have increased by up to 18 days annually for the MENA over a recent 30-year period, the largest for any region on the planet.

Similarly, work completed for maximum consecutive dry days shows trends towards drier conditions.

This result is particularly evident in the eastern part of the MENA region.

Given the nature of rainfall in the region, this result suggests that the dry (summer) season is extending in length.

More alarming are the future trends for later this century.

Results suggest that warming in the MENA are largest in summer, whereas elsewhere it is in winter.

The number of warm days and nights may increase sharply.

Warm spell durations are likely to increase from 16 days currently, to 83 to 118 days by 2050 and more than 200 days by 2100 for the business-as-usual climate scenario in the MENA.

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The maximum temperature during the hottest days in the recent past were about 43C, which could increase to about 46C by the middle of the century and reach almost 50C by the end of the century, the latter for business as usual.

For all mammals, including humans, survival is partially a function of environmental temperature.

Annual trends (in days per decade) for warm days (days above the 90 percentile) for the period 1981-2010 for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Red triangles pointing upwards represent an increase. Image / Mark Donat, University of New South Wales
Annual trends (in days per decade) for warm days (days above the 90 percentile) for the period 1981-2010 for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Red triangles pointing upwards represent an increase. Image / Mark Donat, University of New South Wales

Thirty-five degrees celcius is the threshold value of wet bulb temperature beyond which any exposure for more than six hours would probably be intolerable even for the fittest of humans, resulting in hyperthermia (overheating) and death.

The body can cope through perspiration and evaporation provided that the wet bulb temperature - a measure of humidity or degree of mugginess - remains below 35C.

A graphic example of this was illustrated in Death Valley in 1932 when the highest temperature on earth ever was reached at 56.7C.

Flocks of birds entered the area then plummeted to their death from heat exhaustion.

A recent study in the scientific journal Nature concludes that projections in the MENA are likely to approach and exceed this critical threshold (35C) wet bulb temperature under the business-as-usual scenario, making areas not survivable.

Annual trends (in days per decade) for the maximum number of consecutive dry days over the period 1981-2010 for the MENA. Red triangles pointing upwards represent an increase, blue triangles pointing downwards represent a decrease. Image / Mark Donat, University of New South Wales
Annual trends (in days per decade) for the maximum number of consecutive dry days over the period 1981-2010 for the MENA. Red triangles pointing upwards represent an increase, blue triangles pointing downwards represent a decrease. Image / Mark Donat, University of New South Wales

Regional climate simulations and high-resolution global atmospheric model projections for the MENA and Mediterranean being affected by more severe droughts, consistent with available global projections.

Summer droughts are projected to start earlier in the year and last longer.

One general circulation model-based study projected one to three weeks of additional dry days for the Mediterranean region by the end of the century.

With 70 per cent of the region's agricultural production rain-fed, the sector is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in temperature and precipitation as a result of climate change.

Impacts will vary, but it is often poorer, rural communities that are hit hardest by lost crops and livestock.

Time evolution of warm days (above the 90thpercentile) calculated for the MENA from climate model results according to the business as usual scenario (black) with error bands (light blue), and from observations to 2010 (dark blue line). Image / J. Lelieveld, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry
Time evolution of warm days (above the 90thpercentile) calculated for the MENA from climate model results according to the business as usual scenario (black) with error bands (light blue), and from observations to 2010 (dark blue line). Image / J. Lelieveld, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry

All these factors make the MENA the top climate hotspot, both now, and for the remainder of the century, becoming a much more scorched-earth region, with some places uninhabitable or not survivable.

The MENA is currently the top hotspot for conflict and fatalities, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, with Syria having the largest number in recent years, amounting to 400,000.

The top countries for fatalities in 2017, to the nearest 1000, were Syria (39,000), Afganhistan (23,000), Mexico (15,000) and then Iraq (13,000).

The next nearest was the Rohinga crisis with an estimate of 6700.

The Mexican fatalities were a result of drug wars.

The World Bank has launched its MENA climate action plan for poorer countries such as Yemen, which will struggle to cope with the adverse impact of global warming.

This is a $1.5 billion annual funding geared towards financing initiatives to help countries in the region transition to low-carbon energy, secure food and water supplies, build sustainable cities that adapt to new climate conditions and protect underprivileged countries that are most at risk of climate change.

On the state of Middle East environments and climate change published two years before the 2011 uprisings found "no work... carried out to make the Arab countries prepared for climate change...".

Although the delay in climate change adaptation and resilience-building in MENA cannot be blamed on one factor, a major distinct theme that has undermined preparation for global climate change challenges is the chronic state of heavy conflict in the region.

MENA's vulnerability to climate change impacts will grow deeper still unless this destructive state is reversed.

All states in the MENA are at high risk of corruption posing a continuing threat to security and stability in the region according to a new Government Defence Index from Transparency International situation in London.

Sixteen of the 17 states assessed in the index receive either E or F grades, representing either a "very high" or "critical" risk of defence corruption.

Only Tunisia performs better, although is still classed as "high risk".

The region has some of the most rapidly growing defence budgets in the world, with a spend of $135b, and where up to a third of all government spending can be on defence.

Those at critical risk are Kuwait, Morocco, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Qatar, Algeria and Yemen as there is virtually no accountability or transparency of defence and security establishments.

The failure to end the current conflicts in the MENA also has serious ramifications on a regional level.

Climate change is amplifying the real threat of water scarcity, and deepening the vicious cycle of conflict.

The spend of only $1.5b on climate change mitigation and adaptation, compared with a military spend of at least $135b is outrageous given the future human and animal survivability in this region as the global climate change hotspot.

Peace initiatives are imperative for the entire region.

Dr Jim Salinger is a visiting professor at the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa, Mt Carmel, Israel.