Farming will be the sector hardest hit by global warming.
Credit: Hereford Society of Uruguay
Latin America: The Climate Clock Is Ticking
By Daniela Estrada
A new study suggests that Latin America would not incur great costs if it takes on commitments now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and takes immediate steps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
COPENHAGEN, Dec 16 (Tierramérica).- Latin America should take advantage of the time it has now to seek a new model of production, consumption and distribution in order to adapt to the realities of climate change. But without a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by 2100 the region could lose nearly 137 percent of its current gross domestic product (GDP), says a new report.
The study from the United Nations regional economic agency, "Economics of Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean," was released in Copenhagen at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The report from ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) does not go into detail about the carbon market model that dominated the climate talks, which has come under a deluge of criticism, nor does it offer specific information about climate change impacts on the most vulnerable social sectors, such as indigenous peoples.
A new phase of studies should include those specific effects of climate change, acknowledged Joseluis Samaniego, supervisor of the report, which was coordinated and written by Luis Miguel Galindo and Carlos de Miguel.
"Make the most of this time you have to change what you consume and produce, to make decisions that help you to keep 'decarbonizing', to review the way your cities are growing. Now you can do it more comfortably than you will be able to in the future," Samaniego told Tierramérica.
"If in addition you want to participate in the purchase of the 'collective insurance' (as part of a global mitigation agreement), your share won't cost very much," according to the director of the sustainable development and human settlements division of ECLAC, based in Santiago, Chile.
With data from 15 countries (Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay), ECLAC calculated the projected the costs of climate change for Latin America by 2100, for two extreme scenarios.
In the first, A2, there is no reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and in the second, B2, there is a global emissions reduction agreement, like the one discussed in Copenhagen.
"In the best scenario, with mitigation, the loss (by the year 2100) could be 34.3 percent of Latin America's GDP at current values. Distributed annually over the century, it's less than one percent GDP," depending on the rate used, explained Samaniego.
"In the worst scenario, the impact is nearly 140 percent of current wealth. That is, the losses that will be recorded over the 21st century will be 1.5 times the wealth that exists today, which is more than one percentage point of GDP per year," he said.
Assuming that Latin America will stabilize its emissions at 2002 levels, and that the value of a ton of carbon dioxide (the leading greenhouse gas) is 30 dollars, the plans for reducing emissions would cost the region 2.2 percent of its collective GDP in this century, said the expert.
So participating in the "collective insurance" would be cheap, Samaniego said. ECLAC estimates that between 2005 and 2100, total CO2 emissions will grow an average of 1.5 percent in the region, though there would be differences among the countries.
The farming sector will be the hardest hit by losses from climate change, with average temperatures expected to rise one to six degrees Celsius and sharp changes in rainfall patterns. The glaciers in the Andes Mountains will continue to melt and there will be more extreme weather events in the Caribbean, Central America and in South America's tropics and subtropics.
Rising sea levels could make the coastal mangrove forests of Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador disappear, and the shores of Argentina and Uruguay would be seriously damaged.
In Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, initially the warmer temperature could have positive results for farming in increased crop yields - if it doesn't also give a boost to crop pests. Or if excessive glacier melt doesn't worsen problems in the Chilean and Argentine Andes. But in the longer term, the effects on agriculture will be negative overall.
By 2100, degraded lands in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru will represent 22 to 62 percent of the territory, and the annual costs associated with weather disasters could jump from the 8.6 billion dollars recorded for the 2000-2008 period, to 250 billion dollars.
Faced with these scenarios, Samaniego recommends that the region's governments regulate land use, generate more public information and promote more guarantees in case of disasters.
The market, in turn, "should not resist changes," said Samaniego. "There are winners and losers, but if the market shares the long-term vision, if it has access to the information, it's easier for it to adapt and be less resistant."
For Ana Romero, executive director of the non-governmental Mexican Citizen Presence, "we have to think about how to change our markets because they way they are developing now doesn't fit with the environmental perspective."
"We are exploiting, exploiting and exploiting our natural resources, without thinking about the long term," Romero told Tierramérica. Furthermore, she said, studies are needed about the different impacts of climate change on women and indigenous peoples, two of Mexico's most vulnerable populations.
In Samaniego's opinion, it is possible to improve the population's quality of life and fight climate change at the same time, by improving wastewater and solid waste management and creating more efficient transportation.
It also requires cities to have decentralized and accessible services, to minimize individual car use, and to ensure that cargo transport emits less carbon. There would have to be tax policies that penalize fossil fuel use, he said.
"These issues require a new culture of public management, of working transversely, and great dynamism in the private sector, as well as for society to join in by choosing environmentally friendly products," Argentina's secretary of environment and sustainable development, Homero Bibiloni, told Tierramérica.
Some 30 non-governmental organizations from the region, which took part in COP-15, have pressed their governments to make "adaptation and reduction of vulnerability" the core of national and regional strategies.
What is needed, according to the NGOs' declaration, is equitable distribution of well being and a good life, in which workers - men and women alike - receive fair pay for their participation in the productive and reproductive processes of society.
This would be a "powerful tool" for overcoming the challenges brought on by vulnerability and exposure to threatening events, it concludes.
* IPS correspondent.