The effects of the climate crisis will worsen in Latin America

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A new scientific report warns of the irreversible impacts of climate change over the coming decades and indicates that Latin America is at high risk, 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 United Nations body that brings together climate scientists from around the world, published its latest report, “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” on February 28. , the second part of his sixth assessment. Report. It highlights the dangerous and widespread alterations to nature caused by climate change, affecting the lives of billions of people.

The world faces many climate hazards and impacts over the coming decades, many of which are irreversible. Climate change will continue to increase the incidence of heat-related illnesses, impact food security and make access to water more difficult. The consequences will be even greater if global warming exceeds 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the lower limit targeted by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

“This report is a terrible warning about the consequences of inaction,” remarked Hoesung Lee, chairman of the IPCC, during a press conference presenting the report. “This 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 how nature responds to growing climate risks.

Impacts on Latin America

Thelma Krug, vice-chair of the IPCC, said Latin America is more vulnerable than developed countries to climate change, as its effects are compounded 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 from sowing to harvest – for soybeans decreased by 4.7% in Central America, by 3.1% in northwestern America and 2.7% in southeastern South America. Meanwhile, corn growth duration over the same period decreased by 5% in Central America, 5.6% in northwestern South America and 5.2% in southern -western South America. Such shifts can and will continue to disrupt established cycles and returns.

Extreme weather events are already affecting Latin America. The list of threats includes rising temperatures and sea levels, coastal erosion and increasing frequency of droughts, coupled with declining water supplies and impacts on livelihoods. For example, the number of extreme weather events in Central America has increased by 3% per year over the past 30 years, the report reveals.

Read more: What does the IPCC 2021 report mean for Latin America?

The Amazon, one of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity and carbon in the world, is described as very 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 led to increased tree mortality and a decline 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 ability to store carbon,” said IPCC author Jean Ometto, a Brazilian scientist. “We have already identified lower rainfall and more intense droughts in the southern Amazon.”

The IPCC has highlighted a synergy between fires, land use change (especially deforestation) and climate change which has a direct impact on human health, ecosystem functioning, forest structure, food security and the livelihoods of resource-dependent communities. Across Latin America, people are increasingly exposed to the dangers of wildfires, with between one and 26 additional days of exposure during the period 2017-2020, compared to 2001-2004.

Since the mid-20th century, increased average rainfall has had a positive impact on agricultural production in southeastern South America. Conversely, the lack of rainfall has affected subsistence agriculture in the vulnerable Central American Dry Corridor and in the tropical Andes, undermining food security.

The vulnerability of our countries depends on interconnected variables such as ecosystems, poverty, access to basic services and education

The dramatic loss of glaciers is also highlighted in the new version. In the Andes, between 30% and 50% of glacier area has been lost since the 1980s. Glaciers in the southern Andes have the highest mass loss rates in the world and contribute to sea level rise. the sea. The retreat of glaciers, as well as the increase in temperature and the variability of rainfall, have affected ecosystems, water resources and livelihoods.

The Andean region, northeastern Brazil and northern Central American countries are the regions most vulnerable to climate migration and displacement in Latin America, the report says. Here, social, political and economic factors interact with increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and tropical storms.

“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 support us, poverty, access to basic services and education”, said Edwin Castellanos , a Guatemalan scientist and author of the report.

The future and adaptation

If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, risks from climate change in Latin America will increase significantly, according to the report. These include droughts, increased outbreaks of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, and water insecurity due to receding ice. For example, more frequent, shorter, and more severe droughts are predicted in the La Plata Basin, which spans northern Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, eastern Bolivia, and southern from Brazil.

Impacts on rural livelihoods and food security, particularly for small- and medium-scale farmers and indigenous peoples, are expected to worsen, including an overall reduction in agricultural production, adequate agricultural land and the availability of food. water. By 2050, yield reductions of 19% for beans, 23% for rice and between 4% and 21% for maize are predicted in Central America.

Extreme precipitation events, which lead to floods, landslides and droughts, are expected to increase in magnitude and frequency due to climate change. An increase of 1.5°C would lead to an increase of up to 200% in flood-affected populations in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, 300% in Ecuador and 400% in Peru.

We have a window of opportunity to adapt and reduce Latin America’s vulnerability

The feedback between climate change and land use change, particularly deforestation, could increase threats to the Amazon, leading to increased fire frequency, forest degradation and long-term loss. term of the forest structure. The combined effect of the two impacts will lead to a long-term decrease in carbon stocks in forest biomass.

The Amazon has been identified as one of the persistent and emerging hotspot areas of regional climate change. Throughout the Amazon region, the IPCC predicts that by mid-century there will be an increase in riverine and pluvial flooding, aridity, average wind speed, extreme heat, fires and Drought.

“The sooner we start adapting, the lower the cost. It is much cheaper to invest in prevention and adaptation than to invest after a disaster,” said Liliana Miranda, 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 main obstacle to adaptation to climate change in Latin America. Developed countries have pledged for more than a decade to provide US$100 billion in adaptation and mitigation funds to developing countries, a goal that has yet to be met.

As detailed in the report, many adaptation actions are already underway in the region, including: efforts to improve water supply and quality; crop diversification; early warning systems for dangerous events; payments for ecosystem services; green infrastructure; nature-based solutions; and climate-health observatories.

Effective adaptation will, however, depend on policies and actions at multiple scales, involving stakeholders from all social groups, including the most exposed and vulnerable populations, insists the IPCC. He adds that indigenous and local knowledge is crucial for adaptation and resilience to climate change.

Once again, the report is another sobering call to action – and a call for urgency. “Science has not been respected or heard. Governments only care about gaining power or money,” Gregorio Mirabal, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon Basin (COICA), told Diálogo Chino. “We have not been able as humanity to respect nature and now we are against time.”

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