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Climate change will create severe power and food shortages for Latin America and the Caribbean

Lisa Friedman, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Disappearing glaciers, rising sea levels, crop losses and hydropower plant problems brought about by climate change will cost the Latin American and Caribbean region $100 billion by 2050, a new Inter- American Development Bank (IDB) study finds.

Hardest hit will be the region's agricultural sector, which stands to lose between $26 billion and $44 billion annually in yields of staple crops like wheat and soy. A close second is the hydropower industry, which faces $18 billion in losses as precipitation cycles intensify and rainfall exceeds hydropower's storage capacity.

The analysis, which represents the first in-depth examination of climate change's economic impact on various sectors -- is "quite conservative," said Walter Vergara, head of IDB's climate change team and lead researcher on the study. The price tags assume a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels, which scientists increasingly fear will be exceeded.

Meanwhile, the study finds, reducing Latin America and the Caribbean's greenhouse gas emissions from 9 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per capita to 2 tons per capita by midcentury will require a $110 billion annual investment.

"This is only part of the puzzle of a very complex and multi-sectoral problem involving all aspects of life and progress in Latin America," said IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno. "It lays the groundwork for forceful policy and investment decisions."

The study comes as leaders prepare for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, also known as Rio+20, where they hope to create new pathways to sustainable development. Latin America and the Caribbean account for less than 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but the report notes that they are deeply vulnerable to sea level rise, coral reef devastation, glacier melt and other impacts.

Region poised to emit more greenhouse gases

Carter Roberts, president and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, noted that the region's disproportionate contribution to climate change is through deforestation and land-use change as well as through agriculture. He said the statistics "cry out" for increased attention to the ways to address deforestation "while developing 21st-century models of agriculture and hydropower."

But the IDB study also finds that that other sectors -- in particular, the transport and power sectors -- are poised to ratchet up their share of greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050, together contributing 2 billion metric tons of CO2. That could push Latin America and the Caribbean's total greenhouse gas emissions to 7 billion metric tons, or 9.3 metric tons per capita, by midcentury.

The report calls for the region to emit no more than 2.2 metric tons per capita by 2050, and lays out a pathway focused on land-use policies aimed at achieving that.

World Bank Climate Envoy Andrew Steer called the findings important but said he doesn't believe price tags alone should drive policy decisions. He noted that simply adapting to climate impacts, according to the report, costs less than $13 billion annually, and framing the climate fight simply in terms of economics could lead some to conclude that adaptation alone might be best.

"We have to be extremely careful when we put money values on things. We should do it, but we should be very clear that this shouldn't drive policymaking, because it really does understate the seriousness of the problem," Steer said. "At the end of the day, if you adapt, it doesn't prevent the glaciers from melting. You can do all the adaptation in the world, and your corals are still going to die. Let's not kid ourselves that adaptation can solve the problem."

While the study underscores how the $110 billion price tag of reducing Latin American emissions is more cost-effective in the long run for the region, Steer said that also isn't a good enough reason to address climate change. "We need to remind people that the reason that you and I and policymakers around the world want to prevent the Amazon dieback and prevent the glaciers from melting is because God creates this amazing privileged natural capital," he said. "Obviously, we want to protect it. We shouldn't be shy about talking about the real reasons why we want to protect it."

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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