Global exposure of population and land-use to meteorological droughts under different Warming Levels and Shared Socioeconomic Pathways: A Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment-based study


Global warming is likely to cause a progressive drought increase in some regions, but how population and natural resources will be affected is still underexplored. This study focuses on global population and land-use (forests, croplands, pastures) exposure to meteorological drought hazard in the 21st century, expressed as frequency and severity of drought events. As input, we use a large ensemble of climate simulations from the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment, population projections from the NASA-SEDAC dataset, and land-use projections from the Land-Use Harmonization 2 project for 1981–2100. The exposure to drought hazard is presented for five SSPs (SSP1-SSP5) at four Global Warming Levels (GWLs, from 1.5 to 4°C). Results show that considering only Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI; based on precipitation), the combination SSP3-GWL4 projects the largest fraction of the global population (14%) to experience an increase in drought frequency and severity (vs. 1981–2010), with this value increasing to 60% if temperature is considered (indirectly included in the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index, SPEI). With SPEI, considering the highest GWL for each SSP, 8 (for SSP2, SSP4, and SSP5) and 11 (SSP3) billion people, that is, more than 90%, will be affected by at least one unprecedented drought. For SSP5 (fossil-fuelled development) at GWL 4°C, approximately 2·106 km2 of forests and croplands (respectively, 6 and 11%) and 1.5·106 km2 of pastures (19%) will be exposed to increased drought frequency and severity according to SPI, but for SPEI, this extent will rise to 17·106 km2 of forests (49%), 6·106 km2 of pastures (78%), and 12·106 km2 of croplands (67%), with mid-latitudes being the most affected areas. The projected likely increase of drought frequency and severity significantly increases population and land-use exposure to drought, even at low GWLs, thus extensive mitigation and adaptation efforts are needed to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.



climate projections, CORDEX, drought, global warming levels, land-use, population, socioeconomic scenarios

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International Journal of Climatology.