Latin America and the Caribbean face damages of $100 billion every year by 2050 if the global temperature rises just two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, finds a new report to be released at the United Nations Rio+20 summit on sustainable development later this month.
The two degree Celsius rise is often cited by scientists as the level at which world leaders must stabilize the climate to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
But a rise of two degrees C over pre-industrial levels is now seen as “unavoidable with significant negative effects in economic activities, social conditions and on ecosystems,” according to the report.
Jointly produced by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean and the World Wildlife Fund, the report’s preliminary findings were presented Tuesday in Washington.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are “especially vulnerable” to climate warming, although they contribute only 11 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This figure has declined 11 percent since the start of the century, a period of overall growth in regional GDP, due to reductions in land use emissions and improvements in energy efficiency.
The region’s vulnerability stems from dependence on natural resources, an infrastructure network that is susceptible to climate events, and the presence of bio-climate hotspots such as the Amazon basin, the Caribbean coral biome, coastal wetlands and fragile mountain ecosystems.
Regional damages will result from diminishing agricultural yields, disappearing glaciers, flooding, droughts and changing rainfall patterns, among other events triggered by a warming planet, explains the report, “The Climate and Development Challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean: Options for Climate Resilient Low Carbon Development.”
Key impacts in the region by about 2050 are projected to include partial collapse of the coral biome in the Caribbean, disappearance of most glaciers under 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) in the Andes, the likelihood of some degree of savannization in the Amazon Basin, reduction in agricultural yields of many staple crops, increased flooding and inundation of coastal zones, increased exposure to tropical diseases, destabilization of the hydrological cycle in major basins, and the intensification of extreme weather events.
Mexico and Brazil have the largest land distribution just above sea level, making those countries vulnerable to rising sea levels. A rise of one meter (39 inches) in the sea level could affect 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles) of roads and cause extensive flooding and coastal damage, the report projects.
“Many climate-related changes are irreversible and will continue to impact the region over the long term,” said lead researcher Walter Vergara, the Inter-American Development Bank’s division chief of climate change and sustainability.
“To prevent further damages, adaptation is necessary but not enough. Bolder actions are needed to bend the emissions curve in the coming decades,” said Vergara.