What a Few Extra Degrees Could Mean for North Macedonia



When we talk about limiting the effects of the climate crisis we talk about how many degrees warmer we can afford to go. We are told that we cannot allow the planet to warm by more than 1.5℃ and that 2℃ would be catastrophic. Can half a degree make that much of a difference? What’s in store for North Macedonia at 1.5℃, 2.5℃ or even 5℃ warmer?

Why 1.5℃?

So we need to limit global warming to 1.5℃ but what’s the baseline? 1.5℃ warmer than when? In scientific journals, policy papers and civil society manifestos, 1.5℃ increase means 1.5℃ warmer than pre-industrial levels referring to the Industrial Revolution which started in the 1700s in the United Kingdom. This is when human activities (i.e. the burning of fossil fuels like coal) started to warm the earth’s climate. 

In the timeframe between 1850 and 1900, we have caused approximately 1 degree of global warming and will likely reach 1.5 sometime between 2030 and 2052 at the current rate that we’re burning fossil fuels. One of the main outcomes of the 2015 Paris Agreement was that governments agreed to keep global warming “well below” 2℃ increase from the pre-industrial levels and, ideally, to aim for 1.5℃. 


What difference does half a degree make?

Make no mistake, 1.5℃ warmer is very bad news. Even our current situation of 1℃ is affecting us in a large number of ways from our seasonal patterns, our food security, the spread of disease and extreme weather events to name a few. It is already ravaging vulnerable and indigenous communities all over the world from extreme weather events and flooding in Kenya to entire islands in the Pacific rendered increasingly uninhabitable due to sea-level rise.


1.5℃ warmer means:

  • Extreme temperatures

  • Increase of frequency, intensity and amount of heavy rainfall

  • Increased and more intense droughts

  • Extreme hot days and extreme cold nights

  • More tropical cyclones

  • More floods

  • Sea-level rise

  • Species loss and extinction

  • Invasive species

  • More forest fires

  • Ocean temperatures rising leading to loss of biodiversity, coral reefs and fishing effort

  • Devasted agricultural practices and food security

  • Increase in poverty and vulnerability of already vulnerable populations

  • More heat-related deaths

  • More ozone-related deaths

  • Increase of vector-borne and infectious diseases and increased spreading

  • … and so much more

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report outlining what the world will look like at 1.5℃ and how much worse things get at 2℃. Half a degree less warming could mean:

  • Less and slower sea-level rise giving low-lying and small islands states more of a chance for adaptation 

  • As much as half the amount of insects, plants and vertebrates going extinct than at 2℃

  • Significantly less ice melting in the tundra and boreal forests

  • 70-90% coral reef loss at 1.5℃ as opposed to practically 100% loss at 2℃

  • A decline of 1.5 million tonnes of fishing capacity at 1.5℃ as opposed to double that at 2℃.

  • Several hundred million fewer people exposed to climate change and increased poverty by 2050

  • 50% fewer people exposed to a severe lack of water resources around the world


These shocking statistics and many more essentially say one thing; half a degree cooler generally amounts to half of the damage. 


North Macedonia: 3 Different Futures

North Macedonia faces its own, very serious, challenges that come with climate breakdown (check out our first article). As the things heat up, Macedonians will deal with more drought and forest fires, heatwaves, less local freshwater supply and availability (required in households throughout most of the country), flash floods, more heat-related deaths, less food security, decreased air quality, and possibly even the introduction of vector-borne diseases like malaria.

In April 2020, a series of reports were presented in Skopje which showed the different futures in store for North Macedonia based on three scenarios of varying levels of greenhouse gas concentration (as outlined by the IPCC) which, for ease of reference, we will refer to as low, mid and high. 

The low scenario (or RCP2.6) means that, through human intervention, greenhouse gas emissions start to decline this year (2020) and go down to zero by 2100. For North Macedonia, this would mean warming of 1℃ by 2050 and 1.5℃ by 2100.

The mid, or intermediate, scenario (or RCP4.5) means that greenhouse gas emissions start to decline in 2045 and, by 2100, they will reach approximately half of the emissions present in 2050. For North Macedonia, this would mean warming of 2℃ by 2050 and 2.5℃ by 2100. 

The high scenario (or RCP8.5) essentially means that we continue as usual with greenhouse gas emissions continuing to rise throughout the 21st century. This will lead to a warming of 2.5℃ by 2050 and 5℃ by 2100 in North Macedonia. 



Low

1.5℃

Mid

2.5℃

High

5℃


Rainfall

A slight increase in Sep, Oct & Nov

Decrease by 20% (30% in summer)

Decrease by 30% (40% in summer)

Frost Days

20-30 less

30-50 less

50-60 less

Ice Days

3-6 less

6-10 less

20 less

Summer Days

20-30 more

25-35 more

50-60 more

Drought days

5-20 more

30+ days more

Heatwave duration

1 day longer

1-3 days longer

9-18 days longer

Summary of climate extremes by 2100 in North Macedonia. 


By the end of the century, North Macedonia is facing an overall hotter and drier climate. We will see longer, hotter and drier summers, a decrease in snow and frost, more heatwaves, flash floods, and droughts. We can also see significantly different levels of severity between the low, mid and high scenarios. Some of these changes will be felt more severely depending on which part of the country you’re in. In other countries, the differences between these scenarios are even more ominous than those in North Macedonia. 

After looking at these figures it becomes a lot clearer that the time for action is long overdue. The difference between 1.5℃, 2℃, 2.5℃ or even 5℃ are very significant and keeping warming at 1.5℃ could save lives, jobs, ecosystems, and overall planetary wellbeing. 

Sources

  1. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC

  2. What is a pre-industrial climate and why does it matter?

  3. North Macedonia: Climate Change Post

  4. Climate Extremes Projections for Macedonia up to 2100

  5. The Paris Agreement

  6. Climate change, food security and health in Kiribati: a narrative review of the literature

  7. Scenario Process for AR5


Author: JD Farrugia

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