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EL NIÑO IN THE ERA OF GLOBAL BOILING Rising heat to a planet already warming

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Jakarta, IO – Compared to the Industrial Revolution, the Earth’s surface temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees Celsius in January-September 2023 with a moderate El Niño, even reaching 1.75 degrees Celsius in September alone. Many people are surprised by this situation, when El Niño is moderate but has a super impact. The UN Secretary General even warned “the era of global warming has ended, the era of global boiling has arrived”. Thus, it is imperative that we pay close attention to various predictions for El Niño in 2023, and study its pattern afflicted by climate change. 

Drought, wildfire and emissions 

The scientists were taken by surprise. The rise in temperature in September 2023 has reached 1.75 degrees Celsius, breaking the Paris Agreement’s safe limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius, as reported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), based on records from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) although the average for January-September 2023 was recorded at 1.4 degrees Celsius above the benchmark, namely, the temperature during the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, there were many reports of drought in Indonesia; even the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) also warned the public to be vigilant of the potential for hot weather that could reach 40 degrees Celsius. 

Incidents of drought and water scarcity suffered by communities were widely reported by traditional and social media, especially after BMKG noted that Indonesia had hosted El Niño in May, when the Niño 3.4 Index hit 0.54. At that time, through monitoring of the last 10 days in July, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) index showed a reading of +1.14, indicating that El Niño had continued to strengthen in intensity since early July.

BMKG predicted that the peak of the abnormal climate pattern will occur in August-September. Monitoring results also indicate that 63 percent of the seasonal zones have entered the dry season in July. It is predicted that this year’s dry season will be drier than normal and the driest in the past three years, due to El Niño. 

In general, drought will impact water supply, especially in areas with low rainfall, such as East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), Bali, Maluku, South Sulawesi and Papua. This situation has prompted the Public Works and Housing (PUPR) Ministry to take precautionary measures, which included constructing drilled wells, despite various challenges, including aquifers depleted from a lack of rain. The drought that hit Indonesia has become the concern of the President since July, when it began to affect regions in Java, South Sulawesi, Lampung, Bali, NTB and NTT. Those regions have not seen a drop of rain since May. 

Let us look at El Niño events in recent years, especially after 2015, when an extreme El Niño or Super El Niño hit Indonesia. At that time, it caused a prolonged drought in several regions, including South Sumatra, Lampung, Java, Bali, NTB, NTT and South Sulawesi. It didn’t stop there: the dry season in Java, Bali and Nusa Tenggara also suffered a shortfall of around 20 billion cubic meters of water.

The drought hit 16 provinces, encompassing 102 regencies/ municipalities and 721 districts in Indonesia, until the end of July 2015. Agricultural land covering an area of 111,000 hectares also saw a severe drought. Various efforts were made by the central government and regional administrations, applying appropriate technology and other conventional efforts such as dropping clean water, building wells, building reservoirs, etc. These piecemeal solutions were to a large extent ineffective. 

Apart from drought and widespread water scarcity, El Niño in 2015 and 2019 resulted in unusually massive forest and land fires. Based on satellite data, MODIS detected 129,813 hotspots in 2015, with visibility of only 100 meters. Air quality also deteriorated with the Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) reaching more than 2,000 psi, denoting a very dangerous level.

Forests and land fires burnt an area of 2.61 million hectares with economic losses reaching Rp221 trillion. Education and aviation were paralyzed for almost three months. In 2023, we have seen forest and land fires engulf many parts of the country and cause thick haze. Based on data from June 30 alone, 5,768.73 hectares of land in West Kalimantan has been scorched. 

It did not stop there: greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 and 2019 soared to the highest rates on record. In 2015 and 2019, forest and land fires resulted in emissions from the forest and land-use (FOLU) sector, including peatlands reaching 1,565 Gigatons of CO2e (Carbon dioxide equivalent) and 923 Gigatons of CO2e, respectively.

In 2021, the nationwide emissions level is expected to increase again, after a period of drastic decline in 2020, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and La Niña. Indonesia’s total emissions in 2021 reached 1.14 Gigatons of CO2e, with emissions from the FOLU sector increasing by 21 Megatons CO2e to a total of 891 Megatons CO2e. With El Niño in 2023, it is feared that emissions from the FOLU sector will increase further, if not mitigated by replanting and adequate prevention of forest and land fires.

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