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El Niño Weather Pattern Costs the Global Economy $3.4 Trillion: Study

CRISIS - Biosystem Viability by Martina Igini Global Commons May 22nd 20232 mins
El Niño Weather Pattern Costs the Global Economy $3.4 Trillion: Study

The new study’s results challenge previous estimates which looked at the total costs of the El Niño weather pattern in individual countries. 

Estimated losses in GPD caused by the El Niño weather pattern are a hundred times higher than previously thought, amounting to about US$3.4 trillion, and could reach $84 trillion by the end of the century as the climate crisis worsens, a new study has found. 

Christopher Callahan and Justin Mankin, the Dartmouth Earth system scientists behind the paper that was published in the scientific journal Science last week, suggest that previous estimates fail to consider the impacts of climate variability on economic growth. To calculate the total costs, they compared GDP growth around the world before and after El Niño events from 1960 to 2019.   

“We have this sense that El Nino is a really big hammer that hits the Earth system every few years,” Callahan told the AP. “But we didn’t have as much of a handle on its sort of macroeconomic implications, both what that means just on a year-to-year basis and what that might mean with future global warming.” 

University of Cambridge macro-economist Kaimar Mohaddes, author of a 2017 study suggesting that past El Niños events in the United States and Europe had a “growth-enhancing effect”, challenged the results of the new paper, arguing that not all countries suffer from this weather phenomenon.

Climate experts agree that global warming has intensified the weather pattern in the Pacific since the 1960s. El Niño, which is related to the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central-east equatorial Pacific and typically occurs every three to five years, is responsible for extreme droughts, floods, and heatwaves around the world. The last strong event was in 2016 and caused an estimated US$327 million in agricultural production losses.

The study comes as the US Climate Prediction Center raised odds beyond 90% that the weather phenomenon will return later this year, bringing “off the chart” temperatures and resulting in unprecedented heatwaves. In January, experts said its comeback is also making it “very likely” global average temperatures will exceed 1.5C of warming, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heatwaves, and result in food and water insecurity and poverty for millions of people worldwide.

The UN warned last year that the world is already on track to warm well above 2CIn the latest annual climate update published last week, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) also suggested a 98% chance of at least one year between now and 2027 exceeding history’s warmest year on record, 2016, which happened after the “exceptionally strong” El Niño event. 

You might also like: The Impacts of a Changing Climate on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation

Tagged: El Niño

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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