A new study published in the journal Science has found that the estimated GDP losses caused by El Niño weather patterns are 100 times higher than previously thought, totaling around $3.4 trillion. The study warns that this cost could reach $84 trillion by the end of the century, given the worsening climate crisis. The study’s authors, Dartmouth earth system scientists Christopher Callahan and Justin Mankin, argue that previous estimates failed to consider the impact of climate change on economic growth.
To reach these revised estimates, the researchers compared GDP growth rates around the world before and after El Niño events from 1960 to 2019. The study revealed that all countries suffer from El Niño, which occurs every three to five years and is associated with rising sea surface temperatures in the central-eastern equatorial Pacific. This can trigger extreme droughts, floods, and heat waves around the world, resulting in significant agricultural production losses, as seen during the 2016 event, which caused an estimated USD 327 million in losses.
The study also comes as the US Climate Prediction Center predicts a greater than 90% chance of a recurrence of the weather event later this year. In January, experts warned that a resurgence would put global average temperature at 1.5 degrees of warming, which, if exceeded, could cause droughts, floods, extreme heatwaves, food and water scarcity, insecurity, and poverty for millions of people around the world.
Despite the study’s findings, a University of Cambridge macroeconomist was skeptical and argued that past El Niño events in the US and Europe had a “growth-enhancing effect.” However, climate experts are in agreement that global warming has intensified weather patterns in the Pacific since the 1960s. The World Meteorological Organization has warned that at least one year between now and 2027 has a 98% chance of surpassing 2016, the warmest year on record.