Climate change in Latin America: impacts and risks

by in Business.

Wommen harvest grapes on May 9, 2013 in a vineyard in a rural area of Ginebra, Valle del Cauca departament, Colombia. AFP/Getty Images

Women harvest grapes on May 9, 2013 in a vineyard in a rural area of Ginebra, Valle del Cauca departament, Colombia. AFP/Getty Images

Climate change challenges are unfolding in the global playing field, and the consequences are being felt around the world. “Without additional mitigation, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally,” the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a recently leaked draft of a new report being elaborated ahead of the Lima Climate Change Conference (December 2014).

The impacts are global, yet regional developments, practices and policies play a big role in preventing them. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has published a report in the U.N Climate Summit framework in which they warn that different studies suggest that the economic costs of climate change could total between 1.5% and 5% of the region’s annual gross domestic product. Latin America and the Caribbean is the most urbanized developing region on the planet – urbanization rates have jumped from 68% in 1980 to 80% in 2012. See below an infographic on the potential impacts and risks associated with climate change in Latin America from the report: ‘The economics of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean: Paradoxes and challenges.’

Source: ECLAC

Source: ECLAC

These economic impacts will generate greater potential losses of other kinds, given their various multiplier and “downstream” effects on other economic activities, and the possibility of even more extreme weather- related events and climate change scenarios. This can be illustrated by an examination of the agricultural sector, which is of great importance for Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2012, the agricultural sector in Latin America accounted for around 5% of GDP, employed 16% of the working population and produced approximately 23% of the region’s exports. Agricultural activities are also of key importance for the region’s food security, and also help drive its economy, bolster the trade balance, play a significant role in poverty reduction and are a main source of livelihood for the rural population, which represents 22% of the total population in the region.

Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas emissions – 12% according to U.N. figures – it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes, has said Susan McDade, the UNDP Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Potential impacts and risks are already visible. The mitigation measures offer guidelines to follow, although they aren’t sufficient to achieve the reduction in greenhouse gases necessary for climate stabilization, according to the U.N. Despite the need for adaptation, however, progress lacks.

The agriculture sector has demonstrated its capacity for adaptation through its long tradition of adapting to changing weather and climate conditions. For example, there is evidence that some South American farms have responded to more recent climate pressures by switching from growing maize, wheat and potatoes to cultivating fruits and vegetables, from crop farming to livestock-raising or a mixture of the two and have adjusted their irrigation decisions.