Middle East refugee
Millions may move away from the Middle East and North Africa as temperatures continue to risePhoto Unit/Flickr

Up to 500 million people living in the Middle East and North Africa could be forced to leave their homes because of extreme heat predicted in the near future, researchers have said. A study has found that these regions will become uninhabitable by the end of the century, when temperatures of up to 50C will become the norm during the summer months.

Past studies of the Middle East and North Africa found the number of extremely hot days have doubled since 1970. Research published in the journal Climatic Change has now looked at what the future has in store under different climatic scenarios. Findings showed that even if global temperatures are limited, the regions will become too hot for human habitation.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute used two future global climate scenarios. One of the scenarios is based on the assumption that global temperatures will continue to rise without any limitations − or "business as usual". The second assumes global temperatures will remain below 2C on pre-industrial levels. This is normally seen as the baseline to avoid irreversible climate change.

Under the 2C scenario, researchers said that by 2050, daytime temperatures in the warmest months will reach 46C. In the business-as-usual scenario, midday temperatures could reach 50C by the end of the century.

The researchers also found the number of extremely hot days experienced every year would increase significantly. Between 1986 and 2005, 16 days of the year were considered very hot. Under the 2C scenario, researchers say that by the end of the century, 118 days of the year will be extremely hot. In the other scenario, this could be over 200 days of the year.

"If these projected high temperatures become reality, part of the region may become inhabitable for some species, including humans," the study said.

Jos Lelieveld, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said: "In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy.

"Climate change will significantly worsen the living conditions in the Middle East and in North Africa. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable, which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate."