Climate fluctuations: The weather phenomenon El Niño costs the world economy many trillions

Science climate fluctuations

The El Niño weather phenomenon is costing the world economy many trillions

El Nino is the warm phase of the El Nino La Nina Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean roughly every five years.  The ENSO affects weather systems across the world, bringing extreme weather such as floods and droughts.  El Nino generally causes three conditions in Australia and South-East Asia, and wetter and warmer conditions in the Americas.

El Nino affects weather systems around the world – and leads to extreme weather such as floods and droughts

Source: Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

Experts are expecting the El Niño weather phenomenon this year. A study calculates that its global costs are many times higher than previously assumed. What does that mean for economic growth?

DAccording to a study, the economic costs of the El Niño weather phenomenon run into the trillions of euros worldwide. For their study, published in the journal Science, US scientists not only looked at the direct losses caused by extreme weather events such as floods and droughts associated with El Niño. In addition, Christopher Callahan and Justin Mankin from Dartmouth College in Hanover (US state of New Hampshire) also calculated the impact of El Niño on economic growth and the income of the people affected.

“El Niño”, the Christ child – that’s what Peruvian fishermen called a climate phenomenon that occurs at irregular intervals every few years in the Pacific and whose effects were often noticed there during the Christmas season. At the same time, weather conditions are shifting worldwide due to changes in air and sea currents. More flooding is expected in parts of Africa and South America, while droughts and wildfires are on the rise in Southeast Asia and eastern Australia. For the late summer of 2023, the World Weather Organization (WMO) recently predicted an occurrence of El Niño with a probability of 80 percent.

“The total cost of such events has never been fully quantified,” Callahan is quoted as saying in a Dartmouth statement. “You have to add up all the reduced growth in the aftermath, not just when the event takes place.” He and Mankin analyzed the development of gross domestic product per capita for numerous countries in the years 1960 to 2019 and compared this with the occurrence of El Niño in the years 1982/1983 and 1997/1998.

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Since the slump in economic development also affects the years that follow, the scientists calculated the economic loss for the five years following El Niño. For the event 1982/1983 it was 4.1 trillion dollars (3.76 trillion euros), for 1997/1998 it was 5.7 trillion dollars (5.23 trillion euros), each in relation to a time without El Niño .

Above all, countries in the tropics are affected, which are already among the lower-income countries. “El Niño amplifies the broader inequalities associated with climate change, disproportionately affecting those of us who are least resilient and least prepared,” Mankin stresses.

In a further step, the researchers combined their results with climate models that predict climate change by the end of the century. For the period from 2020 to 2099, they calculated a global economic loss of 84 trillion dollars (77.1 trillion euros). “We show here that such climate variability as associated with El Niño is incredibly costly and stalls growth for years, leading us to estimate costs that are orders of magnitude larger than previous ones,” says Mankin.

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The authors of the study advocate not only reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. “We need to both mitigate climate change and invest more in predicting and adapting to El Niño, as these events will only increase the future cost of global warming,” Mankin said.

Incidentally, Mankin and Callahan took into account the advantages that some countries derive from El Niño and also benefits from La Niña, the opposite phenomenon to El Niño.

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