Latin America and the Caribbean face annual damages in the order of $100 billion by 2050 from diminishing agricultural yields, disappearing glaciers, flooding, droughts and other events triggered by a warming planet, according to the findings of a new report to be released at the Rio+20 summit.
On the positive side, the cost of investments in adaptation to address these impacts is much smaller, in the order of one tenth the physical damages, according to the study jointly produced by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
However, the study also notes that forceful reductions in global emissions of greenhouse gases are needed to avert some of the potentially catastrophic longer term consequences of climate change. The report estimates that countries would need to invest an additional $110 billion per year over the next four decades to decrease per capita carbon emissions to levels consistent with global climate stabilization goals.
“Many climate-related changes are irreversible and will continue to impact the region over the long term,” said Walter Vergara, the IDB’s division chief of climate change and sustainability and the lead researcher of the study, whose preliminary findings were presented today in Washington at an event jointly hosted by the IDB and the Center for American Progress (CAP). “To prevent further damages, adaptation is necessary but not enough. Bolder actions are needed to bend the emissions curve in the coming decades.”
Region especially vulnerable
Latin America and the Caribbean contribute only 11 percent of the emissions that cause global warming. However, countries are especially vulnerable to its effects, given the region’s 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 eco-systems.
Estimated yearly damages in Latin America and the Caribbean caused by the physical impacts associated with the a rise of 2C degrees over pre-industrial levels are of the order of $100 billion by 2050, or about 2 percent of GDP at current values, according to the report titled “The Climate and Development Challenge for Latin America and the Caribbean: Options for Climate Resilient Low Carbon Development.”
The study cites climate impacts in areas such as agriculture, exposure to tropical diseases and changing rainfall patterns, among others. For instance, the report cites recent work estimating the loss of net agricultural exports in the region valued at between $30 billion and $52 billion in 2050.
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 in the sea level could affect 6.700 kilometers of roads and cause extensive flooding and coastal damage. A 50 percent loss of the coral cover in the Caribbean from coral bleaching would cost at least $7 billion to the economies in the region.
The study notes that the adaptation costs are a small fraction of the costs of physical impacts, conservatively estimated at 0.2 percent of GDP for the region, at current values. In addition, adaptation efforts would have significant development benefits, from enhanced water and food security to improved air quality and less vehicle congestion, further reducing their net costs.
“Investments in adaptation are cost effective and have substantial co-benefits” said Luis Miguel Galindo, Chief of the Climate Change Unit of ECLAC, a key contributor to the study. “Also, some of these adaptation measures are very easy to implement and have significant positive impacts.”
Though adaptation is important, substantial investments are also required in order to drastically cut the region’s projected carbon emissions to levels consistent with global climate stabilization goals.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, Latin America and the Caribbean would contribute 9.3 tons per capita of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, up from the current 4.7 tons per capita. The report identifies pathways to bend the emission curve to two tons per capita, by promoting zero net emissions from deforestation and other land-use practices by 2030, combined with efforts to eliminate the carbon footprint in the power matrix and transport infrastructure by 2050, at an annual cost of $110 billion.
“Yes, spending $110 billion a year for a region that faces major development challenges is not an easy proposition,” said Pablo Gutman, the Director of Environmental Economics at the WWF. “However, this would also bring about major benefits such as improved food and energy security; people would have healthier lives in cleaner environments.”
“In the long term,” added Vergara, “this is the surest way to ensure Latin America and the Caribbean continues to prosper along a sustainable path.”