Meteorologists suggest we may experience one of the strongest El Niños seen in the past 80 years, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.
A break in the weather
Like many people this year, I have frequently blamed my recurrent bad moods and irritation this year on the absent summer of 2022/2023. According to meteorologists, I may soon find out whether it was the wet summer or a more permanent problem with my disposition that’s made this year feel less than sunny at times. As the Herald’s Jamie Morton reported on Sunday, Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll says New Zealand’s climate is about to take a “rapid turn”, giving us a taste of the hotter, drier summer much of the country will experience under El Niño. There’s now also a good chance this El Niño will sit among the strongest El Niños seen in the past 80 years. Officials are already warning of fire danger and a heightened risk of drought.
Risk of drought and threats to global food supply
I freely admit to punching the air when I skimmed the “hot, dry” headline on Sunday but the implications of El Niño, in combination with climate change, relegated that to a fleeting gesture pretty quickly. The El Niño summer of 1997/1998, regarded as one of the most powerful El Niño–Southern Oscillation events in recorded history, caused severe drought in New Zealand and was later estimated to have caused a loss of $618m to the economy. There are already rising concerns about the impact of El Niño on global food supplies. Across south and south-east Asia, unpredictable weather is threatening supplies of rice, a staple food for more than half the world’s population. The Northern Hemisphere is still emerging from the deadly heat waves and temperatures of its summer, with firefighters in Greece continuing to battle pockets of wildfires. Media in Europe have been exploring what the double whammy of a strong El Nino and rising global heating might mean. As this Guardian explainer outlines, the science around relationships between human-caused climate change and weather patterns like El Niño or La Niña remains unsettled.
Global warming will make the hot and dry years even hotter and drier
In Australia, alarm bells have been ringing early, with memories of the devastating bushfires in 2019 and 2020, still fresh in people’s minds. The ABC has put together this brilliant data visualisation that explains the complexity of the oscillation between El Niño and La Niña and the uncertainty about whether El Niño conditions will lead to bushfires and drought. As the authors write, what is becoming clearer to researchers with every passing year, though, is that global warming will make the hot and dry years even hotter and drier.
Report card on global emissions reduction goals issued
The United Nations issued its first report card for the goals laid out by signatories to the 2015 Paris climate agreement a few days ago. “The Paris Agreement has driven near-universal climate action,” the report notes, but “much more is needed now on all fronts.” As Stuff’s Olivia Wannan reports, globally, emissions must peak by 2025 and then rapidly fall to achieve the Paris climate targets. Massey University’s Ralph Sims said New Zealand’s greenhouse footprint may have peaked already but another couple of non-pandemic years are required to confirm the trend. After peaking, emissions must nearly halve by 2030. Sims says the solutions are largely well understood “but need political will to urgently increase their uptake.” “This involves individuals, families, businesses, local governments et cetera significantly reducing their carbon footprints however they can. This is not yet happening in New Zealand,” he says.