Higher temperatures, rising sea levels, heavier rains and desertification are only some of the challenges Latin America faces regarding climate change. The regions is one of the high-risk regions according to experts attending the United Nations climate change conference in Lima.
In an interview with the Herald, the head of the Sustainable Development and Human Settlements of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), José Luis Samaniego said the region is already seeing many effects of climate change and faces an average GDP drop of one percentage point because of it.
How is Latin America affected by climate change?
There are already many effects of climate change in Latin America. The sea level is rising, as well as in the rest of the planet, and that has several impacts depending on the geography of the country. The agricultural sector as well as the water resources are the two most affected areas. Diseases such as dengue can now be found in more countries, the rain patterns are changing and there are key infrastructure works at risk because of the rise of the sea level.
Can those effects lead to a lower economic growth of the region?
Countries that rely on agriculture for their economic growth and whose energy matrix is largely based on hydroelectricity are the ones that suffer the steeper economic impact. ECLAC estimates a GDP drop of one percentage point due to climate change in Latin America. But northern countries experience a stronger impact as, for example, Bolivia is seeing a 4.5 percent drop of its GDP.
Latin American countries largely rely on exploiting their natural resources to grow but that implies risks for the environment. Can a balance be reached?
The current economic policies of Latin American countries make it difficult to stop climate change. They choose fossil fuels over renewable energy sources because they are cheaper and tend to think short-term instead of looking ahead. But the region has a lot of resources that could be used to create clean energy, such as the ocean currents.
Looking specifically at Argentina, which are the areas most affected by climate change?
Argentina’s crops could end up benefiting from climate change if the country handles well the agricultural sector and the water resources. The country has to look closely at the Northeast region as it could be seriously affected by desertification and at the La Plata basin because of the rise of the sea level. Long-term infrastructure plans have to be developed in the country.
How do you evaluate the country’s climate change policies?
Argentina doesn’t have a global plan to deal with climate change but the Glaciar Law has to be highlighted as an important issue. Other countries in the region have taken bigger steps, such as planning urban development based on climate change, limiting fossil fuels and creating eco-friendly transportation. There are actual plans developed by many countries of Latin America.
What are your expectations for the COP?
The United States and China’s pledge to give money for the climate change fund was a good sign. If a developed country says that it won’t cooperate on climate change, like Australia did, it means ignoring that they have a higher responsibility because of the emissions they release into the environment.
Can Latin American countries take a leading role at the COP?
They are getting more and more involved in the COP negotiations every year. The region has experienced many years of high economic growth because of the high prices of commodities and had time to make changes regarding climate change. Now it has the opportunity to use that growth to work on plans for climate change.