A new scientific report points out the irreversible consequences of climate change over the next decade. Latin America as being highly exposed, with the region’s vulnerability exacerbated by social and economic factors such as high levels of poverty and inequality.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body that brings together climate scientists from around the world, published its latest report, “Climate Change 2022: The Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” on 28 February, the second part of its Sixth Assessment Report. It reveals the devastating and widespread effects of climate change on the natural world, affecting billions of people.
Over the next decades, the world will face many climate hazards and effects. Many of them are irreversible. Climate change will continue increasing the likelihood of heat-related diseases, affecting food security, and making access to water more difficult. Global warming above 1.5C, the target lower limit of 2015 Paris Agreement, will have even more severe consequences.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” remarked Hoesung Lee, the IPCC’s chair, at a press conference presenting the report. “It shows that climate change is a serious and growing threat to our well-being and a healthy planet. Our actions today will determine how people adapt and nature responds to growing climate risks.”
Latin America’s Impact
Vice-chair of the IPCC Thelma Krug stated that Latin America is more vulnerable than developed countries to climate changes, because its effects are exacerbated by poverty and inequality. This, she added, could affect the region’s role as a food producer and lead to food insecurity.
For example, between 2015 and 2019, crop growth duration – the time between sowing and harvest – for soy shortened by 4.7% in Central America, 3.1% in northwest South America and 2.7% in southeast South America. The growth duration of maize declined by 5% in Central America during the same period, 5.6% in Northwest South America, and 5.2% in Southwest South America. These changes can and will continue disrupting established cycles and yields.
Latin America is already being affected by extreme weather events. Increasing temperatures, sea levels, coastal erosion, and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events are just some of the threats. DroughtThis is associated with a decrease in water supply and impacts to livelihoods. According to the report, the number and severity of extreme weather events in Central America have increased by 3% each year over the last 30 years.
The Amazon, one of the world’s largest reservoirs of biodiversity and carbon, is described as highly vulnerable to drought. Exposure to droughts in the biome increased from 8% in 2004–2005 to 16% in 2015–2016, partly attributed to climate change. This has resulted in increased tree mortality and a decrease in the productivity of its forests.
“Climate change and its associated effects, such as deforestation and forest fires, have made the Amazon more vulnerable. This affects its capacity to store carbon,” said IPCC author Jean Ometto, a scientist from Brazil. “We have already identified lower rainfall and more intense droughts in the southern Amazon.”
The IPCC highlighted a synergy between fire, land-use change (especially deforestation), climate change, which directly impacts human health and ecosystem functioning. It also impacts food security and the livelihoods and communities that depend on resources. Across Latin America, people are becoming more exposed to the dangers of wildfires, with between one and 26 additional days’ exposure in the 2017–2020 period, compared to 2001–2004.
An increase in average rainfall has had an impact on agricultural production in southeastern South America since the mid-20th centuries. Subsistence agriculture in Central America’s Dry Corridor and the tropical Andes have been affected by drought, which has impacted food security.
Our vulnerability depends on interconnected variables like ecosystems, poverty and access to basic services.
In the new release, dramatic glacier losses are also highlighted. Since the 1980s, glacier areas in the Andes have been lost anywhere from 30% to 50%. The Southern Andes glaciers have the highest mass loss rates in the world and contribute to sea-level rise. The effects of glacier retreat and temperature increases on rainfall variability have had an adverse impact on ecosystems, water resources, livelihoods, and livelihoods.
According to the report, the Andean region, northeastern Brazil, and northern Central American countries are most at risk of climate displacement and migration in Latin America. Social, political, and economic factors interact with increasingly frequent, severe extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
“The vulnerability of our countries to climate change depends on a series of interconnected variables, such as the ecosystems on which we depend and which sustain us, on poverty, access to basic services, and education,” said Edwin Castellanos, a Guatemalan scientist and author of the report.
Future and adaptation
If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced, the risks from climate change in Latin America will increase significantly, according to the report. These include droughts and increased epidemics of vector borne diseases like malaria and dengue. The La Plata basin, which stretches across northern Argentina to Uruguay, Paraguay east Bolivia and southern Brazil, is expected to see more frequent, shorter, and severe droughts.
The impacts on rural livelihoods and food security, particularly for small- and mid-scale farmers, and indigenous peoples, will worsen. This includes a reduction in agricultural production, adequate land, and water availability. In Central America, yield reductions of 19% in beans, 23% in rice, and between 4% to 21% for maize are expected by 2050.
Climate change is projected to increase extreme precipitation events like floods, droughts and landslides. 1.5C increases would lead to a 200% increase in flood-prone populations in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru.
We have a window of opportunity to adapt and reduce Latin America’s vulnerability
Particularly, the feedback between climate change & land use change deforestationAmazon could be at greater risk from fires, forest degradation, and long-term forest structure loss. Both of these effects will lead to a decline in forest biomass carbon stocks over the long-term.
The Amazon has been identified by the IPCC as one of the regions of emergent and persistent regional climate change hotspots. The IPCC projects that there will be an increase in river and pluvial flooding, aridity and mean wind speed across the Amazon region by mid-century. This could lead to extreme heat and fire weather.
“The sooner we start adapting, the lower the cost will be. It is much cheaper to invest in prevention and adaptation than to invest post-disaster,” said Liliana Miranda, a Peruvian scientist and IPCC author. “We have a window of opportunity to adapt and reduce Latin America’s vulnerability.”
The IPCC points out that financing is the biggest obstacle to Latin American climate change adaptation. Over a decade ago, developed countries promised to provide US$100billion in mitigation and adaptation funds for developing countries. A goal that has not been achieved so far.
The report outlines the numerous adaptation efforts that are already underway in the area, including efforts to improve water supplies and quality, crop diversification, and early warning systems for potentially dangerous events. Payments for ecosystem services; green infrastructure; Nature-based solutions; and climate-health observatories.
The IPCC warns that effective adaptation will require policies and actions at multiple levels, which involve all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable and exposed. It also states that adaptation and resilience to climate disruption are dependent on local and indigenous knowledge.
Once more, the report is another sobering call to action – and a call for urgency. “Science has not been respected or heard. Governments only care if they are gaining power or money,” Gregorio Mirabal, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told Diálogo Chino. “We have not been able as humanity to respect nature and now we are up against time.”