Op-ed Article

El Nino will stress test the world’s climate preparedness (Issue Date: 13 July, 2023)




Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season in recorded history due to abnormally hot and dry weather. The fires have already released 160 million tonnes of carbon stored in forests back into the atmosphere, and smoke from the wildfires has even reached Europe.
Unfortunately, conditions this year are expected to worsen as the world enters an El Nino phase. Lasting typically for nine to 12 months, El Nino occurs when trade winds weaken and upwelling – the process of cold water rising from the ocean’s depths to replace warm water displaced by these winds – is suppressed. This leads to unusually warm temperatures along the equatorial Pacific Ocean and other parts of the world. Hong Kong may also experience stronger typhoons due to warmer surface waters.

But that is not all. El Nino is amplified by worsening climate change. The World Meteorological Organization warns that under the combined effects of El Nino and climate change, there is a 66 per cent likelihood that the world’s annual average near-surface temperature will breach the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels briefly in the next five years. The world registered its hottest day ever on three days in the first week of July, according to an unofficial record.

To avoid the worst of climate change, we must act now to reduce emissions. But even if we achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions today, it will still take decades for temperatures to stabilise. Governments around the world must prepare cities to deal with the consequences of climate change by expanding green infrastructure, building climate shelters, adopting passive cooling measures, such as reflective surfaces and natural ventilation, protecting the workforce from extreme weather, increasing public awareness of climate change, and more.

The COP28 UN climate talks will take place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates late this year. While there are worries that having a major oil exporter as the host could upend this round of talks, it would be good to see some ambitious climate pledges after last year’s more tepid outcomes.


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