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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: June 2021

9 - Climate Change Made the 2015–2016 El Niño More Extreme


Historically, El Niño events have been associated with droughts and famines. Climate change will make extreme El Niño events more frequent and intense. In 2015–2016, one of the warmest El Niños on record helped trigger massive droughts across Ethiopia, Southern Africa, India, the Maritime Continent, Thailand, Latin America, and Brazil. Exceptionally warm ocean waters decimated fisheries and bleached coral reefs. In Ethiopia and southern Africa, 36 million people were pushed into near-famine conditions. Building on the author’s own research, this chapter examines how climate change has contributed to the ~+0.8°C increase in strong El Niños. In a world without climate change, such a +0.8°C increase would be possible but very unlikely. In a world with climate change, such a change would be very likely. Climate change made the 2015–2016 El Niño more extreme, contributing to Ethiopia’s and southern Africa’s extreme hunger and economic loss. Climate change is hurting people now. Climate change models predict that more extreme El Niños are likely over the next twenty years. The chapter contains a firsthand account from Prosper Chirara, a poor young man from Zimbabwe devastated by drought in 2015 and 2016.

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