The fast-approaching El Niño transition has sent a chill down the spine of climate scientists worldwide. And for a good reason, too — most models forecast a dangerous level of warming that most nations, if not all, simply aren’t prepared for.
The latest report by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) outlines that natural disaster-related events have cost economies upwards of $4 trillion since 1970. However, even this seems like a drop in the ocean compared to the looming price tag that El Niño threatens to impose on the world economy.
A recent study has estimated that as climate change exacerbates future El Niño events, global economies could pay an excruciating $84 trillion by the end of the 21st century, even if the much-needed and elusive carbon reduction goals have been achieved.
We are well aware of how high maintenance El Niño events are, with the two costliest cycles in the last 60 years putting the world economy back by about $4-5 trillion, each. Furthermore, about 56% of all countries had to endure slowed economic development even five years after the event had passed, showing how deep the scars linger.
“We know El Niño is costly. We are showing that these costs are far greater than we understood them to be previously,” explains Justin Mankin, one of the study’s researchers.
To stress their point, they remark that the average income in Peru would’ve been $1,246 higher if the 1998 Niño event had not occurred. They even note that while tropical and poorer countries endure the brunt of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phases, even developed superpowers such as the US aren’t spared from dipping economic growth during major cycles.
“There are places like Peru, Ecuador and Indonesia that are experiencing losses that are far larger than the global number,” remarks Chris Callahan, another study author. “This includes some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, some of the people that don’t have the kind of adaptive capacity that places like the United States and Europe have.”
However, the jury is still out on whether these revised estimates will match real numbers. Climate models still need ways to accurately project how global warming pairs up with El Niño in a way.
But one thing is crystal: major economic losses await, no matter what.