Climate disasters in Latin America threaten to drive six million into poverty in next decade

Region among the most exposed in the world to hurricanes, fires that threaten crops and drive down economic growth rates
Michael Molinski
Monday 25 April 2022 21:47
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As Latin America prepares for another disastrous hurricane season, two major intergovernmental reports are pointing to the need for urgency in reversing years of climate-related disasters that threaten to drive almost six million people into poverty.

A report by the World Bank this month said over the past two decades, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean lost the equivalent of 1.7% of a year’s GDP due to climate-related disasters and up to 5.8 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty in the region by 2030.

Agriculture is likely to be hit hard, with crop yields decreasing in virtually all countries, and energy generation stability will be undermined by changes in the hydrological cycle, the report said.

Poverty rates in Latin America rose to 27.5% in 2021 and are above their pre-COVID levels of 25.6%, the World Bank report said.

“We are in a global context of great uncertainty that could impact the post-pandemic recovery. In the long term, however, the challenges of climate change will be even more pressing, which forces us to urgently move to a growth agenda that is greener, more inclusive and that raises productivity,” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank.

A separate report last month by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of irreversible impacts on climate change and said Latin America is highly exposed.

The IPCC warned of rising heat-related diseases, severe weather episodes and threats to food and water security in Latin America.

Among the main examples from the IPCC report, the southern Amazon is experiencing lower rainfall and more intense droughts as a result of climate change. In another example, between 2015 and 2019, crop growth duration — the time between sowing and harvest — for soy, shortened by 4.7% in Central America, 3.1% in northwest South America and 2.7% in southeast South America. Growth duration for corn in the same period declined 5% in Central America, 5.6% in northwest South America and 5.2% in southwest South America.

Those changes could continue to disrupt established cycles and yields for agriculture at a time when corn and soy are at new high prices due to inflation and the supply chain crunch brought on by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Latin America has vast potential in renewable energy, large resources of lithium and copper used in green technologies, and a rich natural capital, all increasingly valued in a world where global warming and energy security are moving center stage,” said William Maloney, chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank. However, both adapting to climate change and leveraging these opportunities for diversified and sustained growth will require improving the region’s capabilities to identify, adapt and implement new technologies.”

Nonetheless, the World Bank report did not mention the need for Latin America to keep those resources and profits in Latin America, rather than exporting them. Keeping those resources within Latin America is extremely important to the region’s population.

The World Bank report said Latin America and the Caribbean “contributed little to the compounding global crisis of climate change.” The region contributed only 8% of the world’s current greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 38% for North America.

However, it did say that the bulk of Latin America’s greenhouse gas emissions came from agriculture, deforestation and forestry. In North America and Europe, the two leading industries were transportation and electricity and heating.

The World Bank report went on to say that an analysis of the impact of extreme weather events in the past two decades shows that eight Caribbean and Central American nations figure among the top twenty globally in losses as a percentage of GDP, and five in terms of deaths per capita.

“The weather-related disasters create disruptions in critical sectors such as power and transport, damaging key infrastructure and creating economic and financial losses due to interruptions in service that affect supply chains,” the report said.

All of this comes at a time when Latin America is recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and is confronted by rising inflation worldwide. Several Latin American countries — most notably Brazil and Mexico — have reversed some of their climate change policies and have instead concentrated on developing commerce and their economies.

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