Impacts of Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean: 5 Things You Need to Know

On March 31st, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release its latest assessment report focusing on current and future climate change impacts. The IPCC brings together climate and scientific experts from around the world and is the internationally recognized body for the scientific assessment of climate change. This latest report is important because it warns that climate change is already affecting every single continent on the planet and our communities are unprepared to face the impacts of our changing climate.


Climate change is more real than ever and here is what you need to know about the impacts in the region based on the latest IPCC report:

1.    Changes in water availability due to climate change are leading us to more intense floods and droughts. As a result, our economies and well being are at risk.

Water availability in the region is not just important to meet our basic human needs but we are also highly dependent on it both for agriculture and 60% of our energy production regionally is generated through hydropower.

Increased flooding, such as what we have already seen in the La Plata river basin (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay), and reduced river flows and drought, in regions such as Central America and the Central Andes, will contribute to growing challenges for agricultural production.

Andean countries such as Peru and Ecuador will experience increased glacier melt and consequently loss of hydropower generation, which will translate into economic loss of millions and millions of dollars. Time to look at the sun for energy?

We need more of this starting yesterday:

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2.    Climate change will exacerbate loss of natural habitats, which will leave species facing extinction.  

The rich biodiversity and wealth of species in the region face a number of challenges from the expansion of the agricultural frontier and industrialization.

Climate change is compounding this grim reality. Warming temperature and changes in precipitation is driving widespread habitat loss; plants and animals are facing increased risk of extinction as they have no other place to go. We are all concerned about polar bears, but in the region this is about the Amazonian manatee, the Andean cat, the Galapagos penguin, the leatherback turtle and many, many others.


3.    Agriculture in the region will be impacted by climate change leading to increased uncertainty in food production and consequently food security.

The impacts of climate change will lead to agricultural expansion in parts of the region and further deforestation in regions like the Amazon. At the same time, it will decrease crop production in other areas due to droughts.

Improved soil conditions due to increased precipitation has allowed for increased yields of maize and soybean in Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. Yet at the same time, increasing temperatures in tropical regions of  Central and South America are having a negative impact on agriculture.

The uncertainty of where crop production will be viable it is a direct threat to food security. For example, coffee production is very sensitive to changes in climate and may be unfeasible in current production areas throughout the region. What will happen to our coffee farmers if we are not prepared to adapt?


4.    Sea level rise will affect the over 600 million people living on coastal areas in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Sea level rise will continue to increase the severity of coastal flooding. Larger and stronger waves also threaten coastal cities and infrastructure.

 … And, ocean warming and acidification associated with climate change will further decrease marine fisheries.

Some projections indicate that the Mesoamerican coral reef could collapse by 2050 due to ocean acidification. Countries like Belize that rely on marine-based tourism are faced with major economic losses.

Marine fisheries will also continue to decline and affect the livelihoods of coastal communities. This decline is linked to the loss of coral reefs in the Caribbean, as well as the shift of upwelling systems along the coasts of countries like Peru and Colombia.  Our ceviche livelihood is at risk.

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Caption: Volunteers in the city of Salvador, Brazil, connected the dots and drew peoples’ attention about sea level rise and how it impacts our lives during Climate Impacts Day in 2012.

5.    Temperature and precipitation changes due to climate will lead to the emergence of endemic diseases, such as malaria, in new areas.

In Colombia as well as other urban and rural Amazonian areas the number of cases of malaria has increased in the last 5 decades. With a warming climate this and other diseases will also emerge in higher elevation areas as already seen in the Bolivia Andes.

Also, hurricanes and phenomena  like El Niño and La Niña may worsen with climate change. These extreme events will also affect the survival and health of thousands of people in the region.

Parts of Brazil are already experiencing unprecedented drought. Climate change will worsen this impacts and affect frontline communities the most:

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Time for climate action NOW!

This IPCC report is the clearest call for climate action. Although the increasing impacts of climate change are stark, we must rise to the challenge.  We should not only make personal commitments to solving climate change, but also hold our politicians and leaders accountable to real and immediate actions.

Last year started working with young climate activists around the world to spark a wave of climate action at the national level that is continuing this year.

This year in Latin America we have a great opportunity, the UN climate negotiations will be held in Lima in December. The movement will be working this year to make sure our governments in the region commit to real action at home. Join us. Let’s win this fight together.



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