The last few weeks have seen large scale floodings in southwestern China and northwestern India including its capital, Delhi. The deluge in China and India is no exception to an emerging trend of recurrent monsoon anomalies. Lives are being lost and infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. The impacts being felt in many parts of the region amount to billions of dollars. Added to this is a wide variety of other climate-wrought mayhem being reported from across the world such as record-breaking temperature rises and , all of them happening in the backdrop of onset of El Niño 2023 and climate change.
In the Asia-Pacific region, there has been an aspiration to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals through solutions at the nexus of the energy, food and finance sectors. The onset of El Niño is likely to impact this nexus.
El Niño 2023: Risk and potential impacts
A new update from the WMO has declared the onset of El Niño, the first declaration of this kind in seven years. There is a 90 per cent probability of a transition from ENSO-neutral to El Niño during the second half of 2023. El Niño is a natural weather phenomenon that fuels above-average global heat, but results in more intense natural hazards in parts of the world. It will likely have strong economic repercussions and threatens to slow the global economy by as much as US $3 trillion.
The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 estimates the annualized economic losses to be up to $675 billion with nearly 85 per cent of the losses in the region resulting from monsoon-related droughts, floods and tropical cyclones. The likelihood of an El Niño this year is coinciding with the Asian summer monsoon, which typically brings seasonal rains between June and September (Figure 1). Its impact will be manifested through increasing extreme weather events as well as slow onset disasters. While there is no specific attribution study yet to establish the direct link between the onset of El Niño and large-scale floodings in the region, seasonal outlooks for June, July, August and September (JJAS) do capture its broad footprints.
Potential impact scenarios
The JJAS 2023 analysis of WMO’s seasonal outlook for precipitation (ensemble) reveals the areas that need attention in association with above-normal precipitation (Figure 2). These areas include north-east parts of Kazakhstan, neighboring with west parts of Mongolia and south-central of Russian Federation as well as central parts of China. It also includes Pakistan and India, west parts of Nepal, north of Bangladesh, south parts of Thailand and south parts of Maldives.
Figure: 1. Temporal profiles of floods and drought, often associated with the Asian Summer monsoon, coincides with high probability of onset of El Niño 2023.
Figure 2. Translating the WMO Seasonal outlook for precipitation (ensemble) JJAS 2023 into impact scenario of above normal precipitation JJAS 2023
Potential impact on food, energy and finance nexus
Substantial parts of agricultural supply chains in South Asia, North and East Asia and South East Asia are exposed to high probability of above normal precipitation. Countries with high agricultural value, such as Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, Russian Federation and Thailand are exposed to higher flood risk (Figure 3). Extreme weather events will impact energy systems, especially hydro-electric powerplants in the exposed countries. Stranded citizens, flooded homes, cars floating through inundated streets and the emergency evacuation of people in the affected cities across China and India alert the world to the surmounting economic impacts. It is evident that El Niño 2023 is likely to substantially impact the food, energy and finance nexus in the region and hence, strategic actions for managing El Niño risk is crucial. A good example of this practice which can be noted is the Indonesia BMKG and Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial.
Figure 3. Agriculture food supply chains exposed to above normal precipitation JJAS 2023
Strategic actions for managing El Niño risk
- A comprehensive climate risk management approach that includes El Niño risk information at global, regional, national and sub-national levels is key towards operationalizing El Niño risk management
- Development of customized ‘actionable’ El Niño preparedness and mitigation products and services.
- Integration of El Niño risk with potential impact scenarios and policy actions.
- Development of El Niño outlook, synthesizing information from authoritative sources
- El Niño risk communication through climate outlook forums – regional, sub-regional, national/sub-national level.
Need for a regional strategy
Not only are climate-related disasters, including El Niño risk, on the rise, but their impacts are also increasingly transboundary. Efforts to implement the ‘Early Warnings for All: Executive Action Plan 2023-2027’ at the country level could benefit from a regional strategy that seeks to build transboundary synergies. The ESCAP Disaster Resilience Week with the Eighth Session of the Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction from 24 to 27 July 2023 is focused on the further development of a regional strategy for managing transboundary disasters in support of achieving early warnings for all by 2027 in Asia and the Pacific.