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OPINION: The IPCC’s 1.5°C Report – What are the implications for development choices in Latin America?

Maria Jose Pacha, CDKN’s Knowledge Manager for Latin America, says that the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C of global warming implies far more integrated public policy-making in Latin America – which takes account of food, energy, water and climate securities at once. 

Climate change is evident in Latin America

The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, launched this week, captures recent and increasingly advanced scientific understanding of global warming. It not only confirms that the Earth is becoming warmer; but also that the land is warming more quickly than the oceans, and that warming is experienced unevenly among regions and seasons. Alarmingly, it confirms that if emissions continue at their present rate, human-induced warming will exceed 1.5°C by around 2040.

When looking at Latin America, the IPCC has already reported changes in the region’s climate, including significant changes in temperature and rainfall: warming of 0.7–1°C has been detected throughout the region since the 1970s and annual rainfall has departed from its historic norm: increasing rainfall in Southeastern South America contrasts with decreasing rainfall trends in Central America and Central-Southern Chile. More frequent extreme rainfall in Southeastern South America has led to landslides and flash floods. An example of this is the triple frontier where the Parana River is shared amongst Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina:  extreme intense rains and floods caused  losses  that reached US$40 million during the period 2013-2017 in the three cities of Puerto Iguazú, Ciudad del Este and Foz de Iguacu.  In the cities of the Amazon Delta, increased rainfall results in sudden water surges that affect human health through viral infections, dengue cases and rat-borne infections.

Adding to these problems, urbanisation is also expected to increase in the coming decades in Latin America,  bringing extra pressure to now intermediate-sized cities.  Migration from the Andes-Amazon regions[1] will affect the dynamics of local resource use; most of that growth will occur in small and medium cities, many of which are located in Amazonia[2].

These compounding pressures across swathes of Latin America add credence to the IPCC’s scientific findings and the urgent need to mitigate climate change – and adapt effectively to climate change impacts – now.  So, the question looking at the current situation and future trends is: how to limit warming to 1.5C and create a more resilient future?

Far-reaching and well integrated policies needed

I strongly agree with the IPCC’s conclusion that land transitions will occur of great magnitude in the coming years, which “pose profound challenges for sustainable management of the various demands on land for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services….The implementation of land-based mitigation options would require overcoming socio-economic, institutional, technological, financing and environmental barriers that differ across regions”. Integrative policies are needed to tackle these various demands on land use. I consider that  the concept of a nexus among water, energy and food (WEF) is one good example of such an integrated approach. It is a sound way to proceed in our hyper-connected world, in which water, energy and food are increasingly interdependent.

In Latin America, water is at the heart of this nexus and underpins hydropower generation, agricultural production and industry.  As the region comes under increasing pressure from climate change, and national and international demand from growing populations, understanding and accounting for these interdependencies is vital for achieving longer term economic, environmental and social goals.Improving our understanding of how underlying socio-ecological factors affect water, energy and food security will be essential in strengthening climate resilience.

CDKN has worked in understanding more about how the WEF nexus can be applied in Latin America. In the  water-energy-food nexus in Latin America and the Caribbean the main challenges and opportunities for achieving water, energy and food security in the region were identified in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. We worked with our partners, the Global Canopy Program, in identifying how  a WEF approach can be applied to the Amazonia region and developed an Amazon Security Agenda together with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

One limitation found in this approach is the need for a (more) solid evidence base on the role of Amazonia and its sub-basins in underpinning WEF security, which can inform landscape-specific assessments to allow different actors to formulate adequate policy. Analysing the distribution of risks, costs and opportunities across multiple stakeholders is critical in developing incentives to encourage aligned action around WEF objectives.

Leading example of how to pursue water-energy-food security in a changing climate

With the Climate Resilient Cities Initiative we answered these questions and focussed on the Cumbaza river basin in Peru, and its main city, Tarapoto, to understand how the WEF approach can work on the ground. In the project Cumbaza Resiliente al Clima current water, energy and food resource systems were quantified, taking into account demand, supply and access indicators of WEF security. These indicators were developed with an array of stakeholders of Cumbaza river basin. WEF interactions were visualised and can be used to design and implement actions and measures that can improve  natural resources governance and promote trajectories towards climate-resilient development change.  There are interesting results on how the WEF concept can strengthen climate resilience in urban amazonia, how water resilience can be achieved in Amazon urban landscapes and a manual for carrying out this type of analysis in other similar watersheds.

This case study has generated important insights into, and awareness of, interdependence among water, energy and food security across urban and rural environments, and local-regional elements of risk and resilience. The results also highlight the role of forest ecosystem services in underpinning water-energy-food systems for both urban and rural populations, in particular around water security.

The WEF nexus approach can help drive climate change mitigation and the ambition to keep average warming well under 2 degrees. The actions suggested in the project included the expansion of green infrastructure projects to maintain important water ecosystem services, such as restoration by reforesting 1500 ha in the Ahuashiyacu and Shilcayo river sub-basins, and a total of 3000 ha for the broader Cumbaza watershed through agroforestry systems by 2050. These actions will both create greater resilience and contribute to mitigation by helping store and sequester carbon.

Examples like the Cumbaza basin initiative, with its data analysis, stakeholder mapping and intensive consultation and negotiation phases, demonstrate how human perseverance and ingenuity can address some of the complex challenges of climate change and development. Importantly, the initiative has had financing – from Canada and the UK – to make some of the work possible. But it has also tapped deeply into the human capital of the region to draw out sustainable solutions.

The initiative has also placed a strong emphasis on learning-by-doing, and knowledge-sharing among partners, to enable participants to learn quickly from each other. Documenting and distributing the findings could catalyse action elsewhere in the Amazon region – and beyond. These success factors from an ongoing project in Peru suggest that the IPCC’s grand challenge to limit global warming and live more sustainably with climate change impacts is tough – but not impossible.

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[1] In the department of San Martín, 65% of the population is urban and migration from the Andes is an ongoing trend.

[2] Most of the projected urban population growth by 2050 in Latin America will occur in small and medium cities.

Image credit : Amazonia, CIAT

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