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Wednesday, 19 July 2023

Enterprise Explains: Adapting to minimize the loss and damage incurred by El Niño

Enterprise Explains: El Niño Part 2- Adapting to minimize the loss and damage incurred: Countries around the world are facing extreme high temperatures and scorching heat waves this summer, reinforcing a harsh reality that the impacts of global warming are on our doorstep. With the effects of El Niño currently underway, countries are reminded that adaptation measures aimed to prevent or minimize the damaging effects of climate change are a core requirement for effective climate resilience. The UN confirmed in a report (pdf) last year that bringing down greenhouse gas emissions cannot be the sole solution for fighting the climate crisis. International adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10x below estimated needs, which the report calculated stands at USD 160-340 bn by 2030.

In part two of this two-part explainer on El Niño, we look at the state of climate research and modeling in the region and the measures that could be undertaken to help minimize the loss and damage associated with the weather phenomenon.

Missed Part 1 of our El Niño explainer? Check out our breakdown of what the phenomenon is, and how we can expect it to affect our region.

We need to see what’s coming: Given that El Niño can be forecasted up to six to nine months early, researching and developing models that can better predict the region’s climate patterns is essential in the management of regional water and agricultural resources, climate researcher at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics Muhammad Abid told Enterprise Climate. Saudi Arabia’s King AbdulAziz University (KAU) is able to simulate El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather patterns to predict rainfall in the region using its Atmospheric Global Climate Model — adapted from a model developed by Seoul National University. The model has a 65% higher predictability for the region’s rainfall during El Niño years compared to La Niña years, meaning that it is better at predicting dry conditions in the region than wetter ones.

Data helps investors make decisions: “Investors will tend to put their investment in areas with low risk. So I would say it’s really encouraging to start to develop research facilities that focus on the impact of climate change or large-scale climate patterns like El Niño and La Niña,” Canada-based climate researcher and water resources consultant Shereif Mahmoud told us. Currently, the World Meteorological Organisation and its regional offices are the only institution following ENSO and its expected impacts, climate scientist and head of the Environmental and Geophysical Sciences Lab at Dubai’s Khalifa University Diana Francis told us.

Combating increasing drought conditions in MENA and the GCC: Nile Basin and North African countries — including Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria — will experience more droughts during the El Niño cycle. Adaptation measures to counteract the effects of drought could include developing new agriculture strategies to prioritize growing crops with less water requirements, transitioning to modern irrigation methods to save on water consumption, and introducing crops that can handle a higher salinity, Mahmoud explains.

Things could get worse with a warming planet: According to NOAA, the sixth and latest assessment report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2021 concluded that there is no “systematic change” in ENSO variability — how frequently the cycle happens — under four emission scenarios considered. Another study (pdf) published in Nature showed a different model that revealed a robust increase in ENSO variability under the same IPCC emission scenarios leading to a lack of consensus. El Niño has a natural variability which makes it difficult to say for certain whether global warming is a contributing factor, Abid explains, adding that other factors such as the impact of El Niño on precipitation levels can be more easily linked to global warming.

And we stand to lose a lot of funds as El Niño intensifies: A rapidly developing El Niño could result in a global economic loss of over USD 3 tn by 2029, with developing nations likely to be hit harder. By comparing reductions in GDP per capita in different countries following the 1982-83 and 1997-98 El Niño events, the US’ GDP was roughly 3% lower in 1988 and 2003 than it would have been otherwise. Peru and Indonesia took a much larger hit, with GDP being lower by more than 10% over the same period.

Developing countries will need financial help: While some multilateral organizations have set up emergency funds in the past to help countries recover from extreme weather events brought about by ENSO, the value of the funds have been negligible compared to the amount needed to build up effective climate resiliency. While rich nations may finally meet their long-delayed yearly USD 100 bn financing commitment to vulnerable nations this year, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley and COP28 President Designate Sultan Al Jaber have both expressed that at least USD 2 tn a year would be needed in reality, with some to be used for adaptation initiatives such as building climate-resilient infrastructure, managing water supplies, and diversifying crops.

All eyes on COP28 to deliver: COP28 President Designate Sultan Al Jaber said this year’s climate conference will be centered around the needs of developing countries, and will deliver an ambitious and practical action plan focusing “on results that address the needs of the Global South.” The operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund — to be approved during the fourth transitional meeting in October — will also be crucial for developing adaptation initiatives needed to protect mns of lives from the increasing damage caused by ENSO events.

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