Researchers at the University of Copenhagen track climate change trends using satellite imagery: Developing countries and wealthy countries are different.
More than 40% of the Earth’s ecosystems are arid. Their numbers are expected to increase dramatically during the 21st century. Such areas, for example, in Africa and Australia, are savannas and deserts, where rare precipitation has long become the norm. Vegetation and wildlife there have already adapted to the use of scarce water resources. But they are also very vulnerable to further climate change.
Based on satellite images observing the Earth every day, researchers from the Department of Earth Sciences and Natural Resources Management at Copenhagen University studied the evolution of vegetation in arid regions. Their conclusion is unambiguous:
We see a clear trend in the development of drylands: they are degrading. Vegetation is increasingly suffering from a lack of water. The fact is that countries with this type of climate also have fewer resources than rich ones.
Rasmus Fensholt, professor at the Department of Geological and Geophysical Research and Natural Resource Management.
The researchers analyzed satellite images of vegetation and precipitation over 15 years, from 2000 to 2015. To compare the evolution of vegetation in arid regions of the world, the researchers removed precipitation totals from the equation. In other words, they made a calculation that considers that some regions have received more rain in recent decades, while others have less.
This gives a more accurate picture of the health of the ecosystem, as human influence becomes easier to identify: in other words, whether the use of resources is balanced or the resources of the ecosystem are overexploited.
The results show that arid regions, especially Africa and Asia, have less vegetation per rainfall than South America and Australia. This can be due to several reasons, such as rapid population growth. In Africa, there is a growing need to exploit lands that are poorly suited for agriculture. This leads to lower yields and an increase in the number of livestock that will graze on already small areas of grass.
On the other hand, there are arid but rich countries: they are better at coping with climate change, apparently because they have the resource to develop agriculture and supply watering to hard-to-reach places.
This means that climate change trends are disappointing for developing countries. This can lead to more and more people starving and forced to migrate.