It Is Not El Niño, It Is The West – OpEd


Amidst widespread American demonstrations for President Biden to embrace decisive measures against fossil fuels, notable Western publications have begun advocating that America’s culpable carbon emissions are a result of the natural phenomenon El Niño. This approach conceals irresponsible deals and undermines urgent international efforts to address the devastating impacts of climate change.

Climate change refers to the alteration of weather patterns, induced by human activities that release greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) into the atmosphere. Whereas, the responsible states are attributing global warming and climate change to the natural occurrence of El Niño, downplaying effect of GHG emissions on climate. This year is on track to potentially set a new record for the highest temperatures ever documented. Notably, temperatures have surged to unprecedented levels, contributing to heatwaves and wildfires that have ravaged parts of the northern hemisphere. The manifestation of perilous heatwaves and floods across diverse countries on various continents highlights the global scale of the issue, with even the United States being affected this time. The southern United States, Southern Europe, and South and Southeast Asia have endured extensive damage due to these heatwaves.

Paradoxically, despite these climate challenges, the Biden administration continues to greenlight numerous fossil fuel projects, undermining international conversations about transitioning swiftly to renewable energy sources.

This approach erodes Washington’s credibility on the international level. As a response, thousands of Americans are planning demonstrations ahead of a summit, urging President Biden to take decisive action against fossil fuels. 

Interestingly, influential Western newsletters have begun to downplay America’s carbon emissions by asserting that global warming is not driven by GHG emissions, but rather by the natural phenomenon of El Niño.

El Niño, is a naturally recurring event marked by periodic warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean, and has a counterpart known as La Niña, characterized by cooler-than-average sea temperatures. Both El Niño and La Niña exert considerable influence on global weather patterns. However, the root cause of the temperature rise in the Pacific Ocean remains under scrutiny.

Scientific consensus indicates that GHG emissions are the primary drivers of ocean temperature increase.

The intensification of El Niño and La Niña patterns aligns with the reversal of trends brought about by fossil fuel combustion. It’s worth noting that the impact of human-caused warming on El Niño and La Niña has been evident since the 1960s. The climate crisis has drawn attention to the responsibility of Western developed nations, including those in the global North, as they initially contributed to global warming that disproportionately impacted countries in the global South. Today, these developed regions are also grappling with the severe consequences of their actions, prompting protests and petitions, even targeting President Biden and other leaders in power.

In light of the escalating GHG emissions, global warming is anticipated to breach the 1.5°C threshold between 2030 and 2052. NASA’s global temperature analysis confirms that June 2023 was the warmest June on record. A 20 percent probability exists that one of the upcoming five years will experience a temperature increase of 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. This swift environmental degradation poses a significant challenge to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem stability jeopardizes progress on 80 percent of assessed SDG Targets, thereby obstructing advancements in poverty reduction, hunger alleviation, healthcare, water access, urban development, and climate action.

July’s temperatures have affirmed its status as the warmest month ever recorded. It is estimated that temperatures were around 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) higher, surpassing the previous record set in July 2019 by a notable margin of 0.59 degrees Fahrenheit (0.33 degrees Celsius).

Despite these escalating climate fluctuations, the United States has seen emissions rise by 0.8 percent, attributed to heightened energy consumption by buildings to cope with extreme temperatures. The Biden administration’s actions have raised concerns, as it appears to backtrack on its commitment to cease funding overseas oil and gas projects. This shift has triggered internal divisions among senior officials who must weigh the importance of addressing climate change against diplomatic alliances seen as crucial in countering Russia and China.

In response, individuals from diverse fields, including politicians, business leaders, scientists, doctors, and lawyers, are intensifying their efforts to pressure the government into reconsidering plans to approve new oil and gas projects while weakening air quality regulations. In a countermeasure to these protests, certain state-sponsored analysts are now advocating the notion that climate change aligns with a natural pattern, like the “El Niño pattern,” potentially diverting attention from contentious administrative decisions.

In a world where urgent climate action is imperative, the clash between demands for change on the streets and the subtle cover-ups in influential publications paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced in tackling climate change. The juxtaposition of these forces underscores the complexity of the issue and the critical need for transparent, accountable, and impactful policies to safeguard our planet’s future.

Syeda Saba Batool

Syeda Saba Batool is a Researcher at Center for International and Strategic Studies, Islamabad. She is also the Chair at Emerging Voices Network, BASIC, and London. She is currently pursuing her research degree of MPhil in International Relations from School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid e Azam.

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