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Climate Change in Latin America: It's Worse Than We Thought

The world is in a bigger and more devastating climate emergency than previously believed, according to a report by United Nations experts.

Photo: Adobe Stock - Panumas

LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

The Sixth Report of Evaluation of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has the world on alert, because it says that the impact of global warming and environmental damage is much more devastating than previously believed. Particularly,  the effects of climate change in Latin America make it one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet.

In fact, Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out that it is an announcement of catastrophe if the leaders do not take pertinent actions urgently. “I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but none like this one. Today's IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” Guterres said.

This report is especially important because it is the largest scientific assessment on climate change, its impacts and future risks, and adaptation and mitigation alternatives. It is a joint effort between the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program, which brings together the work of 270 scientists around the world, who in turn analyze thousands of investigations. It seeks to provide truthful information for governments to make sound decisions on climate policies.

Effects of climate change in Latin America

Chapter 12 of the IPCC report is exclusively dedicated to the analysis of the situation in Central and South America. One of the most worrying factors that is happening on the continent is the loss of biodiversity, due to accelerated deforestation. And this is not a surprise: at the end of last year, a report from the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil ( INPE) had already pointed out that deforestation in the Amazon had increased by 21.97% in the last year. It is reaching historical levels and is one of the great concerns, since it no longer functions as a carbon sink and it is highly vulnerable to droughts.

On the other hand, the distribution of the species that inhabited the Andes has changed, as they have moved due to the increase in temperature. This causes imbalances. Likewise, in the Andes, glaciers have lost more than 50% of their surface since the 1980s. In other ecosystems, there is a reduction in the abundance, density and coverage of corals in Central America and northwestern South America.

For these reasons, climate change in Latin America today makes it a highly vulnerable region to fires, droughts, and floods. The Andean areas , the northeast of Brazil and the countries of northern Central America are among the most vulnerable in the world to have climate migrants.

In conclusion, the report found that there are a number of key risks. Food insecurity due to droughts; water insecurity due to decreased snow cover and damage to glaciers; tragedies for people and infrastructure due to flooding; large-scale changes in Amazon biodiversity; danger to coastal areas due to rising sea levels and damage to coral reefs, and danger of increased spread of infectious diseases are the main ones.

The region is unique in that the impact of global warming is amplified by inequality and poverty, and demographic growth and high population density. However, it also there is a reverse impact. In other words, the effects of the environmental crisis deepen the gaps in economic, ethnic and social inequalities. In this way, the most vulnerable or historically discriminated groups, such as indigenous communities, are the ones who suffer the most.

Likewise, South America and Central America have a low adaptive capacity, which generates more vulnerability, due to high levels of poverty, lack of infrastructure, enormous inequality, among other things,

Urge to act with a multilateral approach

Urgent measures are required to adopt policies and actions. Financing to implement adaptation processes is key and urgent. However, these policies must have a social and economic focus at the same time. Especially in Latin America, it is essential that the most exposed and vulnerable populations get involved to make an effective adaptation. In this sense, research approaches that integrate indigenous knowledge and local knowledge systems have given good results.

On the other hand, the director of the United Nations Environment Program, Inger Andersen , concluded that the report makes clear the global state of emergency, for which a multilateral approach is essential. “ We are in an emergency situation, which is heading for a disaster. We can't keep taking the hits and healing the wounds. Soon those wounds will be too deep, too catastrophic, to heal. We have to soften and slow down the blows by reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” he pointed out.

Beyond the actions that each citizen can implement in their life habits, and which are necessary, it is It is essential that the rulers commit to executing the right policies. For this reason, the power of the citizenry also resides in electing those rulers who are really committed to confronting the climate crisis.

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