Climate Change: Is Latin America prepared for temperatures to rise 4 degrees?

November 19, 2012


Increased flooding due to more frequent storms and higher sea levels is just one of the predicted consequences of a 4 degree rise in temperatures for the region.

  • New report outlines disastrous effects were global temperatures to rise by 4-degrees.
  • Latin America and Caribbean predicted to be one of the regions most affected by temperature spike.
  • Adapting to changes today will increase the region’s resilience to future disasters.

Increased high-intensity cyclones, reduced arable land and the loss of low-lying regions are just some of the possible consequences for Latin America and the Caribbean if global temperatures were to rise 4°C by 2100, according to the new study ‘Turning down the Heat.’ An increase double that of the internationally recognized 2C target, widely considered to be the tipping point after which environmental damage will be irreparable.

Responsible for only a fraction (12.5%) of the world’s global emissions, Latin America could be one of the regions most affected if temperatures were to rise, with the Caribbean and tropical regions shouldering the greatest burden and the region’s poorest populations likely to suffer the most.

Concrete examples of these impacts include:

-Rising oceans
Since 1998, the melting ice from the ice fields in Patagonia has contributed to around 2% of the global annual sea level rise. As temperatures rise, this rate is only likely to increase, with the report projecting sea levels to rise between 0.5 -1m by the turn of the next century. Such a rise could do untold damage on the small, low-lying islands in the Caribbean, contaminating freshwater wetlands, vital for the islands’ water supply, and with projected losses totaling US$68.2 billion by 2080, much of which would be borne by the region’s tourism industry.

-Frequent storms
Already one of the region’s most dangerous meteorological hazards, the frequency of high-intensity tropical cyclones is predicted to increase, with Central America and the Caribbean among the four regions most likely to bear the brunt of the resulting damage. This would be of particular concern to countries such as Mexico, whose eastern seaboard, as explained in this blog, is already at considerable risk, especially given the speed at which its population size and infrastructure is growing.

-More droughts
With the world population rising, the global demand for food production is also set to increase. Currently playing host to a third of the world’s arable land and resources, the region is well placed to be a major player in future food production efforts. But, as seen by this year’s severe drought in Mexico, the report warns that a 4°C rise would severely impact upon arable lands, with reductions most keenly felt in Latin America along with Africa and India.

" Preparing for the disasters of today is the first step in adapting to the disasters of tomorrow. "

Erick Fernandes

World Bank Adviser for Climate Change and Natural Resource Management

Adapting to climate change

Even today the global climate is changing, and so regions must adapt to in order to maximize their resilience to the changes. As World Bank Adviser for Climate Change and Natural Resource Management Erick Fernandes explains, "preparing for the disasters of today is the first step in adapting to the disasters of tomorrow."

For Latin America, this resilience means:

  • Ensuring the region's infrastructure can withstand the new climatic 'extremes'
  • Growing a wider variety of crops, which perform well in droughts, floods and heat, as well as guaranteeing future crops through seed-banks
  • Prioritizing land use to preserve and manage multiple threats
  • Implementing emergency response plans and early-warning alert systems
  • Developing social safety nets and insurance to protect the region's most vulnerable groups.
  • Sharing best practices and information systems between countries.
  • Monitoring the region's weather and climate

Is green growth the answer?

Offering a snapshot of the latest climate science, the report warns that global temperatures are the path to a 4°C rise and current greenhouse gas commitments will not reduce this by much. However a sustained commitment to greener, more inclusive growth could help limit the rise to 2°C.

Currently Latin America emits 12.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but the region’s growing urban population and motorization rates are both highlighted in the Bank’s ‘Inclusive Green Growth in Latin America & Caribbean’ study as potential sources of environmental degradation if left unchecked.

Nonetheless the region has embraced the challenge, with many countries implementing innovative and ecologically sound solutions, which live up to their environmental responsibilities.

Most notably:

Bus Rapid Transport Systems have been installed in key cities across the region to encourage public transport use and reduce car dependence, leading the way in alternative mass transit for the developing world.

Electricity generation in Latin America has more than doubled in the past 20 years, but an increase in the use of renewable sources, as well as natural gas, has helped the region reduce its dependence on oil and diesel and consequently reduced the carbon footprint of its electricity industry.

A major player in agriculture, countries across Latin America have reduced the industry’s environmental footprint through schemes to preserve existing forests and woodlands as well as encouraging reforestation, such as this one in Costa Rica.

Currently the Bank is working with 130 countries worldwide to tackle climate change, doubling its lending for adaptation. US$7.2 billion worth of Climate Investment Funds are now in operation in 48 countries, 14 of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean.