Climate in the Time of Crisis: El Niño’s Profound Climate Impact in the Modern World


During the preceding summer, the harrowing toll of record-breaking heat in Europe amounted to a tragic loss of nearly 62,000 lives. In the same vein, the excruciating conflict in Ukraine cast a grim shadow, claiming the lives of over 9,000 civilians, including 500 innocent children, in the year 2022. These disheartening circumstances prompt a crucial inquiry: what looms as the most formidable adversary confronting Europe? In elucidating this inquiry, a poignant realization emerges—a world rife with intricate complexities and influential actors, where destructive forces intertwine, threatening to hasten a cataclysmic fate by diverting attention from the impending climatic catastrophe.

An interesting parallel emerges, similar to seeing the globe as wearing tinted eyeglasses, providing a distorted picture while it travels a risky path afflicted by warfare, embargoes, and uncomfortable divides. Parallel to this, the never-ending chase of economic domination, along with ambitious mass production endeavours designed to meet the requirements of an enormous population reaching 800 billion, drives the machinery of global consumption on a perilous path. This trend threatens to destroy the very cradle handed to humanity in the vast expanse of the known cosmos.

Against this backdrop, an unanswerable question resurfaces with renewed urgency, evoking a haunting introspection of our own souls: Are we prepared to face the impending climatic apocalypse that lurks on the horizon? Are we inadvertently shaping a dystopian inheritance for the generations that follow? The answers to these unsettling inquiries still linger suspended in the air, for the recent realities that have unfolded in our midst fail to present an unequivocal halt to the harrowing saga of environmental degradation that the world continues to endure.

The return of El Niño: A Startling Glimpse into the Future

In recent years, there has been a notable occurrence of intense heat waves and disruptive El Niño patterns, which have sparked significant concern and raised awareness among the global population. The echoes of this alert resonate with the pressing need to confront the imminent climatic difficulties that lie ahead. The climatic phenomena known as El Niño presents itself as a significant indicator, foretelling a series of repercussions that are now eroding our hopes for a sustainable future. The occurrence of El Niño in the year 2023 and its possible consequences need a more thorough analysis.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has recently issued a crucial statement alerting to the onset of El Niño, marking the first such declaration in a span of seven years. This pronouncement carries significant ramifications, as there exists a high likelihood, estimated at around 90 percent, for a transition from ENSO-neutral conditions to the influence of El Niño in the latter portion of 2023. El Niño, a naturally occurring climatic phenomenon, wields the potential to elevate global temperatures beyond the norms, thereby instigating an upsurge in the frequency of natural calamities across diverse geographical locations. The economic implications of this climatic shift are vast, with the potential to considerably impede the world economy by an estimated magnitude of up to US $3 trillion.

In concurrence with this, a recent report emanating from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has unveiled distressing figures. The year 2022 alone bore witness to over 140 disasters striking the region, culminating in the loss of over 7,500 lives. This confluence of disasters had a pervasive impact, affecting a staggering 64 million individuals and resulting in an estimated economic toll of $57 billion. On the other hand, El Niño is fueling a global food security crisis, with more than 60 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, this number will increase as further assessment details emerge.

Under the backdrop of a warming scenario projecting a 2°C increase, ESCAP’s projections reveal a stark reality. In the absence of an adequate response, the potential surge in fatalities and economic losses could eclipse the trillion-dollar mark, exceeding $1 trillion. It is imperative to note that this profound impact is predominantly rooted in the ravages of droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones, all of which are incited by the monsoon phenomenon. The convergence of El Niño with the Asian summer monsoon—a season spanning June to September—intensifies the probability of encountering extreme weather events and gradual-onset disasters.

Turning to the examination of conceivable impact scenarios, a meticulous scrutiny of the JJAS (June to September) 2023 analysis, gleaned from the World Meteorological Organization’s ensemble seasonal precipitation outlook, yields regions warranting heightened attention due to their forecasted precipitation levels transcending the established norms. These focal areas span the northeastern fringes of Kazakhstan, adjacent to the western expanses of Mongolia, the south-central tracts of the Russian Federation, as well as central zones within China. The ambit of concern extends to encompass Pakistan and India, the western reaches of Nepal, the northern expanse of Bangladesh, the southern precincts of Thailand, and the southern confines of the Maldives.

Also, El Niño’s impact on climate requires climate scientists to consider localized consequences for better preparedness. With potential threats to rice crops, South and Southeast Asian nations are conserving stocks. Predictably, vulnerable regions like parts of Ethiopia and the Andes experience drought and flooding. El Niño also induces dangerous heat waves in South Asia, posing health risks like heat-related illnesses and vector-borne diseases. Heat wave-related deaths surpass other severe weather fatalities, emphasizing the significance of adaptation. Past El Niño instances triggered malaria outbreaks, emphasizing its localized effects. El Niño’s influence manifests through geographically specific events, necessitating tailored strategies for mitigation and adaptation.

What should we do?

Even though the war in Ukraine is complicated and has been going on for a long time, the need to fight climate change and lessen the effects of El Nino make it essential to acknowledge the problem. Even though the world is in chaos, steps must be taken right away to stop the environment from getting worse. The first step in this plan is to make sure everyone understands how serious the issue is. When people understand the same things, they can work together to find answers.

At this crucial time, the world can’t afford fights between enemies or support for weapons. It also can’t allow supply lines to be interrupted. The goal should change to making a world where there are no more fires caused by people.

For real growth to happen, words must be turned into real actions. Concrete steps that give priority to reducing carbon emissions, protecting wildlife, and restoring the environment must replace empty promises. The money that is spent on international disputes should be put towards joint efforts to stop climate change. Unity could help people come up with new ways to deal with this huge problem.

Most importantly, giving help to weak groups requires a strong resolve. Allocating resources quickly is important to protect those who are least to blame for climate change but are hurt the most by it. By copying the models of great climate leaders (like Bangladesh), effective tactics can be put into place more quickly. Getting ideas from people who are at the heart of climate action speeds up the use of proven methods. As the Ukraine conflict gets worse, we need to work together and make a global pledge to sustainability to take advantage of this chance to deal with climate change and stop El Nino.

In summary, the discussion around the global climate crisis extends beyond academic boundaries, evoking a strong emotional impact. The need to take action arises not only from cognitive understanding, but also from an inherent obligation to safeguard the provider and sustainer of the human species, namely, the Earth. By collectively acknowledging the imminent dangers and demonstrating a collective will to alleviate them, mankind has the potential to establish a path towards achieving peaceful cohabitation with the Earth. This trajectory is committed to preserving the integrity of our mutual dwelling for future generations.

– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Geopolitics [Link]