The IPCC’s former vice chair told Malaysian news outlets today that while the naturally occurring El Niño of 2015-2016 was very powerful, global warming did not play a role. Dr. Fredolin Tangang of the University of Malaysia/Kebangsaan also said that even though this El Niño was one of the strongest recorded since recordkeeping began, there was no evidence that global warming was causing El Niños to become more frequent or more intense. An oceanographer and climatologist, Prof. Tangang served on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as its vice-chairman from 2008 to 2015.
The IPCC is made up of member states from various countries around the world and is tasked with determining different global warming scenarios that may occur in the future. In its 2013 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), it produced four different scenarios of the Earth’s future, all based on computer models that ranged from the least severe to most severe. It is the most severe report—known as the RCP8.5 scenario—that many scientists use when making catastrophicpredictions about Earth’s “dark climate future.”
That’s because you need a baseline of what the climate may be like when making predictions about future events and phenomena. So if you are trying to determine the “likely” effects of global warming on the bushy-tailed squirrel’s mating habits, you need to create a computer simulation and input a series of events that may or may not happen. Enter RCP8.5, the least likely “business-as-usual” scenario. Think of them as far-flung weather forecasts decades from now, rather than days.
Tangang also remarked that the current El Niño is in its “final stretch” and the tropical Pacific Ocean’s sea surface temperatures (SSTs) should return to normal by June. Some experts have speculated that based on previous El Niños of this magnitude, it may flip to a La Niña. That development, however, would be similar to what happened after the last super-strong El Niño of 1997-1998.
“El Nino is a naturally occurring phenomenon,” Tangang said, “Which is part of the inter-annual variability associated with oscillation of the atmosphere-ocean interaction in the Pacific Ocean that occurs in a two- to seven-year cycle. This system oscillates and it can be either El Nino, La Nina or normal phases.”