Sea levels are rising faster in the Caribbean and Latin America than elsewhere

Extreme weather events and the effects of climate change are hitting Latin America and the Caribbean hard, from the Amazon to the Andes and from the seas to the snow-capped mountains of Patagonia. This is what the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a UN agency, says in a new report.

Phenomena such as droughts, heat and cold waves, tropical cyclones and floods “have caused the loss of hundreds of lives, severe damage to agriculture and infrastructure and displacement of people,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO.

The WMO report The state of the climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2021 was presented at a regional conference for the countries of South America organized by the UN agency in the city of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

It highlights the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on ecosystems, food and water security, people’s health and the fight against poverty.

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High deforestation

Last year, deforestation was at its highest level since 2009. This is not only harmful to the environment, but also undermines efforts to combat climate change.

The glaciers in the Andes have lost more than 30% of their surface area in less than 50 years.

The glaciers in the Andes have lost more than 30% of their surface area in less than 50 years. Across the region, some are simply disappearing.

The ‘mega-drought’ plaguing central Chile is the most persistent so far this century. In the Paraná and Plata river basins, the drought resulted in limited soybean and corn crops, affecting global agricultural markets.

In South America as a whole, dry conditions led to a decline in grain harvests. In 2020-2021 it was 2.6% less compared to the previous season.

Extreme rainfall

Elsewhere, extreme rainfall has caused floods and landslides, killing hundreds, destroying or damaging tens of thousands of homes and displacing hundreds of thousands. Only two Brazilian states—Bahia and Minas Gerais—suffered material losses of an estimated $3.1 billion.

The warming trend in the region also continues: the average temperature increase between 1991 and 2021 was about 0.2 degrees Celsius per year. decade, compared to 0.1 degrees per decade between 1961 and 1990.

Accelerating sea-level rise and ongoing ocean warming are expected to continue to affect livelihoods, tourism, health, food, energy and water security in coastal areas, especially in small islands and in Central American countries,” Taalas said.

Rising sea level

Sea levels in the region continue to rise faster than globally, especially along the Atlantic coast south of the equator and in the subtropical North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Taalas states that “for many cities in the Andes, the melting of glaciers represents the loss of an important source of fresh water used in domestic, irrigation and hydropower plants”.

“The ongoing degradation of the Amazon rainforest is one of the main causes of concern, both for the region and the world.”

In South America as a whole, “the ongoing degradation of the Amazon rainforest remains one of the biggest concerns, both for the region and for the climate at the global level, given the role this type of forest plays in the carbon cycle,” Taalas adds.

food insecurity

A total of 7.7 million people in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua faced severe food insecurity in 2021. This was due in part to factors such as the continued impact of hurricanes Eta and Iota in late 2020 and the economic impact of the pandemic.

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Mario Cimoli, responsible for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), emphasizes that the worsening of climate change and the combined effects of Covid-19 have not only affected biodiversity in the region. “They have also brought decades of progress against poverty, food insecurity and inequality in the region to a halt,” Cimoli said.

Across the region, there were no fewer than 175 disasters in the period 2020-2022, of which 88% were due to meteorological, climatic or hydrological causes. To mitigate the negative effects of this situation, sustainable investments and innovative services such as early warning systems which has not yet been effectively deployed in the region. This is a distinct conclusion in the WMO report

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