Australian-led research has found that even if global warming is kept to only 1.5℃, extreme El Nino events are likely to become twice as common. Under the Paris Agreement, the international community is aiming to limit warming to 2℃, and the researchers warn of the impact that future generations will have to face.
But what do the experts have to say?
Associate Professor Pete Strutton, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science
While the Paris targets are admirable, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that we will meet them. Even if we do, this study shows that the climate effects will be very serious. This study is consistent with previous work by these authors and others that shows that the intensity and frequency of El Nino (a warm climate phase) is favoured by a climate that is warmer.
The paper also suggests that the effects on El Nino will continue long after mean global temperatures are stabilised, if they are. This is important because it illustrates the "inertia" in the climate system. This issue is probably even more pertinent for processes in the ocean such as acidification.
Dr Scott Power, Head of Climate Research/International Development Manager at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology
Most small island states in the Pacific have a limited capacity to cope with major floods and droughts. Unfortunately, this paper indicates that these vulnerable nations could be exposed to El Nino impacts more frequently in the future, even if global warming is restricted to 1.5℃.
To make matters worse, our recent study published in Nature Communications indicates that the risk of major disruptions to Pacific rainfall have already increased. And, unfortunately, these El Nino-related impacts will add to the other challenges of climate change, such as rising sea levels, ocean acidification and increasing temperature extremes.