Climate change impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean and their implications for development

Abstract

This paper synthesizes what is known about the physical and biophysical impacts of climate change and their consequences for societies and development under different levels of global warming in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Projections show increasing mean temperatures by up to 4.5 °C compared to pre-industrial by the end of this century across LAC. Associated physical impacts include altered precipitation regimes, a strong increase in heat extremes, higher risks of droughts and increasing aridity. Moreover, the mean intensity of tropical cyclones, as well as the frequency of the most intense storms, is projected to increase while sea levels are expected to rise by ~0.2–1.1 mm depending on warming level and region. Tropical glacier volume is found to decrease substantially, with almost complete deglaciation under high warming levels. The much larger glaciers in the southern Andes are less sensitive to warming and shrink on slower timescales. Runoff is projected to be reduced in Central America, the southern Amazon basin and southernmost South America, while river discharge may increase in the western Amazon basin and in the Andes in the wet season. However, in many regions, there is uncertainty in the direction of these changes as a result of uncertain precipitation projections and differences in hydrological models. Climate change will also reduce agricultural yields, livestock and fisheries, although there may be opportunities such as increasing rice yield in several LAC countries or higher fish catch potential in the southernmost South American waters. Species range shifts threaten terrestrial biodiversity, and there is a substantial risk of Amazon rainforest degradation with continuing warming. Coral reefs are at increasing risk of annual bleaching events from 2040 to 2050 onwards irrespective of the climate scenario. These physical and biophysical climate change impacts challenge human livelihoods through, e.g., decreasing income from fisheries, agriculture or tourism. Furthermore, there is evidence that human health, coastal infrastructures and energy systems are also negatively affected. This paper concludes that LAC will be severely affected by climate change, even under lower levels of warming, due to the potential for impacts to occur simultaneously and compound one another.

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Acknowledgments

This research has been funded through the World Bank Project “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” and we are grateful to everybody involved in this activity for making it a success. Moreover, we would like to thank Wolfgang Cramer, James Ford, Gabriele Götz and the guest editors for making this special feature possible and for their valuable guidance throughout this process.

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Reyer, C., Adams, S., Albrecht, T. et al. Climate change impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean and their implications for development. Reg Environ Change 17, 1601–1621 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-015-0854-6

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Keywords

  • Development
  • Global change
  • Poverty
  • Projections
  • Scenarios
  • Sustainability