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Adapting to climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean

For many years, scientists have been predicting the impact of climate change. In Latin America and the Caribbean, predictions range from water shortages to an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. The effects of climate change could significantly reduce the ability of ecosystems to operate properly, threatening development projects throughout the region.

A report from
the Working Group on Climate Change and Development in the UK describes the
effects of climate change and environmental degradation in Latin
America and the Caribbean.
These include impacts on water, livelihoods, energy, the environment, health
and migration. The report examines how to stop and reverse global warming, but also
how to live with the amount of global warming that cannot be avoided.

The region’s climate
is changing: in 2005, there were 26 tropical storms and 14 hurricanes. The
intensity of these storms is likely to increase in the future. Rainfall and
snow patterns are also changing, with increases in flooding and droughts and
evidence of glacial melting. Sea levels are likely to rise, which will affect
coastal areas: 60 of Latin America’s
77 largest cities are located on the coast. Furthermore, the destruction and poor
management of natural resources increase the impacts of climate change. This
abuse is rarley caused by poor communities, but they
have most difficulty coping with the impact of change.

The research

  • The stress on water resources is likely
    to increase. Estimates suggest that by 2025, about 70 percent of the population
    of Latin America
    and Mexico
    will live in regions with low water supply.

  • 30 to 40 percent of working people in Latin
    America are farmers. Studies show decreases in
    the yields of key crops including barley, maize, potatoes and soyabeans. These decreases are potentially linked to global

  • The region is likely to experience
    increasing health problems. Diseases such as malaria and cholera are likely to
    spread. Reduced access to food and water will also affect people’s health.

  • The challenge of coping and adapting is
    greatly increased by existing and historical neglect of women in the region.

The report
argues that humans need to design a new model for progress and development that
will work despite changes to the climate. This model must give everyone a fair
share of natural resources. The researchers recommend that:

  • Rich countries need to exceed the targets
    for reducing greenhouse gases set by the Kyoto Protocol.

  • Understanding of the problem of climate
    change is limited in developing countries. People need detailed maps that
    outline the complex impacts and risks from climate change.

  • A community-based approach to reducing
    the risk of disasters should be included in all relief, reconstruction,
    development and poverty reduction plans.

  • Governments must increase support for
    small-scale agriculture, based on diversifying farming systems to include a
    range of crops suited to different climatic conditions.