The global economy loses trillions in the persisting downturn following an El Niño event, according to a new study.
Why it matters: A rapidly developing El Niño could result in a worldwide economic loss of upwards of $3 trillion through the end of the decade — costing some nations more than others.
How it works: The study looked at total GDP per capita growth in countries around the world, comparing reductions in GDP per capita following El Niño events and tallying up how much smaller the world economy was following an event than it would have been otherwise.
Total losses captured under the GDP growth umbrella include associated damages and disruptions to agricultural and crop production, conflict, infrastructure, fisheries and health — like its role in spreading infectious diseases…
…Yes, but: GDP only captures “a small portion of the consequences,” according to Amir Jina, a climate researcher at the University of Chicago who is unaffiliated with the paper.
The findings reveal not just “how vulnerable we are right now,” but also “how vulnerable we might be in future” as the climate gets more variable and extremes are more likely, says Jina in an email.
Of note: Research limitations include a small sample size — the paper’s authors say there have been roughly a dozen El Niños in the late historical record with good observations — and uncertainty concerning what climate change will mean for El Niños in the future.
The bottom line: “The fact that these events are somewhat expected — in that they happen every few years, and have been forecastable since the 1980s — and yet we still see costs, is an extraordinary thing,” says Jina.
“And yet we still haven’t managed to fully remove the losses it might cause.”