Frightening Numbers in Latin America and Caribbean

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The region needs billions of dollars to reduce emissions and adapt to catastrophic changes. Where will the money come from?

By Emilio Godoy
Inter Press Service, Nov. 22, 2008

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean need billions of dollars to deal with the economic impact of climate change  funding that is not easily found on the international market.

A World Bank study presented Friday, the first day of a Nov. 21-23 congress of legislators from the Americas meeting in Mexico City to discuss the challenges of the global financial and climate crises, says natural disasters related to climate change, like storms, drought and flooding, cost 0.6 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the affected countries, on average, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

If the frequency of natural disasters increases from one every four years to one every three years, per capita GDP could shrink by two percent per decade in the region, according to the report presented by Laura Tuck, director of the World Bank’s department of Sustainable Development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The economy of the Caribbean region alone could experience six billion dollars in losses by 2050 in tourism, coastal protection, and the pharmaceutical and fishing industries.

Although Latin America accounts for a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region will need to take measures for staying on a high-growth low-carbon track, Tuck said at the meeting taking place in the Mexican legislature.

A total of 77 lawmakers are taking part in the Americas Legislators’ Forum on Climate Change, held under the auspices of the Mexican Congress, the World Bank, the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE), the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (COM+), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This is the first time politicians from the entire region have come together to discuss measures to address climate change.

“We need funds to take measures against climate change, but financing is scarce,” Jamaican legislator Noel Arscott told IPS.

Over the next five years, Jamaica will need one to two billion dollars to develop renewable energies in order to curb greenhouse gas emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Latin America is responsible for 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which according to the scientific community are causing global warming and climate change. Brazil and Mexico, Latin America’s giants, are the biggest emitters in the region.

“We can adopt measures to modify our energy base, but what we need is adaptation,” for which funds must come from industrialised countries, “which are the ones who must take measures to cut emissions,” Salvadoran legislator Lourdes Palacios told IPS.

El Salvador needs 130 million dollars to carry out water and environmental sanitation projects. The legislature of that Central American country recently gave the go-ahead to a decision to take out an Inter-American Development Bank loan for 20 million dollars for that purpose.

This weekend’s GLOBE meeting is intended to open up discussions ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland next month.

The Dec. 9-10 conference in Poland will assess compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, which went into force in 2005, setting specific targets for industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the immediate effects of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean are a 0.1 degree Celsius rise in temperature over the last decade, exceptionally strong hurricanes, flooding in southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and drought in Chile, southwestern Argentina and Peru.

The long-term effects in the region, according to the World Bank report, include the disappearance of tropical glaciers, the expansion of tropical diseases, the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems like coral reefs and rainforest, a drop in agricultural production and the devastation of coastal infrastructure.

Agricultural productivity could fall by 12 to 50 percent by 2010 in South America, depending on the severity of climate change. In Mexico, between 30 to 85 percent of farms could experience a near total loss of economic productivity.

A coherent policy and an investment framework for adaptation as well as mitigation are needed, said Tuck.

Latin America and the Caribbean have more than 33 percent of the world’s total forest biomass and 65 percent of all tropical forest biomass.

The region accounts for 12 percent of global agricultural exports and three percent of jobs in the agricultural sector.

The draft of the meeting’s final declaration, which was seen by IPS, proposes that the leading developing nations should assume commitments by 2020 to reduce the intensity of carbon emissions, and that industrialised countries should transfer the necessary resources and technology to that end.

But Tuck warned that despite innovations, Latin America and the Caribbean have been following a high carbon growth model.

The World Bank recommended that the region establish an international architecture on climate change and domestic policies to adapt to the effects of global warming and take advantage of the opportunities for mitigation.

Tuck suggested viable mechanisms for obtaining financial support for policies aimed at curbing deforestation and soil degradation, carbon trading schemes that promote hydroelectricity and the reduction of trade barriers to biofuels.

“We must calculate our ecological debt and how we can pay it,” said Palacios.