Climate change impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean are already significant and it is highly likely that they will be more intense in the future, a new report released today by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) warns. The organization said that effects are already being seen in agricultural activity, water availability, forests and biodiversity, the sea level, tourism and people’s health.
Although this is a long-term phenomenon, immediate action must be taken to arrive at a solution, addressing both mitigation and adaptation processes, according to the study The economics of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean: Paradoxes and challenges of sustainable development. An updated version of this report was presented in the framework of the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 20), which is being held in Lima, Peru through Friday.
If the region’s average temperature rises by 2.5°C (probably around the year 2050), the economic costs of climate change are very tentatively estimated at between 1.5% and 5.0% of the region’s current Gross Domestic Product (GDP), ECLAC indicated.
The costs of adaptation, meanwhile, are calculated at below 0.5% of the current GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean and they are seen concentrated in the protection of coastal areas, agricultural activity and the water sector. These estimates also reflect a high degree of uncertainty and probably will tend to be higher, the United Nations organization said.
In Central America and South America, the temperature has risen between 0.7°C and 1.0°C since the mid-1970s, with the exception of Chile’s coast, where temperatures fell by 1°C. Annual precipitation rates have increased in the southeastern part of South America, while precipitation has shown a tendency to decline in Central America and south-central Chile.
The Caribbean subregion is particularly exposed to combined phenomena, such as rising sea levels coupled with extreme climate events (drought, flooding, hurricanes and storms). The study notes that according to some climate scenarios, the entire coral ecosystem may have collapsed by 2050.
With regard to agriculture and livestock, the report indicates that in South America the regions with warmer climates will be more affected than those with cooler climates and greater water availability. In 2012 this sector contributed nearly 5% of the region’s GDP, accounted for 16% of employment and represented 23% of exports.
To adapt to climate change, some agricultural producers in the region are switching from corn, wheat and potatoes to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables and they are relying more on irrigation. At the same time, agricultural lands are being converted into livestock ranches or mixed farms.
There is evidence of a rapid retreat and melting of the Andean glaciers in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, which have lost between 20% and 50% of their surface area. At the same time, the main effects on people’s health have been associated with heatstroke, an increase in infectious diseases (malaria, dengue fever and cholera), and the consequences of natural disasters.
In terms of coastal dynamics, the analyses conclude unequivocally that sea levels are tending to rise throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. From 1950 to 2008, the sea level appears to have climbed by between 2 mm and 7 mm per year, with Ecuador experiencing the smallest increases and parts of northern Brazil and Venezuela witnessing the largest ones.
This all reflects an asymmetrical situation in which Latin America and the Caribbean generates just 9% of the emissions that cause climate change, but is particularly vulnerable to its effects. The energy sector (electricity, heating, manufacturing, construction and transportation) is responsible for 42% of these emissions, followed by agriculture (28%) and changes in land use and forestry (21%). Stabilizing the world’s climate would require that the level of greenhouse gas emissions be reduced from approximately 7 tons of CO2 per capita today (the region’s average) to approximately 2 tons per capita by 2050.
For that to happen, ECLAC says, an international agreement must be reached in which all countries actively participate under the banner of common but differentiated responsibilities. This global accord must be based on the transition to sustainable development, which implies a change in production and consumption patterns along with greater equality and social cohesion and a public-private mix that is consistent with that new paradigm.
Today at 4.30 p.m. ECLAC and the Government of Peru will present the results of the studies on the economics of climate change in Latin America and Peru, during a press conference being held in Lima in the framework of the COP 20 meetings. The presentation will take place in the Press Conference Room N° 1 of the headquarters of the COP 20.