CLIMATE CHANGE:Latin America Failing to Adapt

By Diego Cavallos

MEXICO CITY (IPS) - Latin America and the Caribbean are not prepared to confront the problem of global warming, to which the region is contributing with growing emissions of greenhouses gases, says a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to the report, "Climate Change in Latin America and the Caribbean 2006", there is a "Lack of informationàregarding how to approach adaptation" to the phenomenon, "Uncertainty regarding the interaction between climate change and other pressures," a "Short-term planning horizon," and a "Lack of mechanisms for public participation."

"The region has made great progress in terms of civil defence measures to deal with the disasters arising from climate change, but it has not done so in the area of adaptation," Ricardo Sánchez, UNEP regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS.

Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, which are mainly produced by the burning of fossil fuels.

In this region, the impact of climate change is seen in the growing intensity and frequency of hurricanes in the Caribbean, changes in rainfall patterns, increased water levels in rivers in Argentina and Brazil, and the shrinking of glaciers in the extreme southern region of Patagonia and the Andes mountains.

The report, drawn up by UNEP and Mexico's ministry of the environment and natural resources, warns that in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean there is "Limited non-technical knowledge (economic, legal, institutional) for adaptation" and "Limited knowledge of tools and procedures for evaluating adaptation performance."

In the future, "climate change will increasingly be a development problem" in the region, which is already suffering economic and human losses as a result of the phenomenon, the study warns.

"Climate change is no longer science fiction, it is already hitting us, and for now it is inevitable," said Sánchez.

In October 2005, Hurricane Stan tore through several Central American countries, hitting Guatemala and El Salvador especially hard, and causing at least 1,620 deaths. Just two months earlier, Hurricane Katrina caused severe damages in the southern United States, becoming one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent U.S. history.

And in 1998, Hurricane Mitch left a death toll of around 1.2 million and material losses of 8.5 billion dollars -- more than the combined gross domestic product of Honduras and Nicaragua, the countries that bore the brunt of the storm's fury.

Other disasters were Hurricane George, which slammed into the Dominican Republic in 1998, claiming 235 lives, and Hurricane Ivan which left over 100 dead in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Jamaica, Cuba and the United States in 2004.

Although emergency measures to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of hurricanes have improved, global adaptation mechanisms are also needed, including long-term plans, funding, development of alternative energy sources, and a concerted effort to fight poverty and deforestation, said Sánchez.

While the report points out that compared to industrialised countries, this region contributes relatively little to the phenomenon of climate change, it warns that its share of global greenhouse gases is growing, from seven percent in 2000 to a projected nine percent in 2050.

The study also expresses concern that CO2 emissions in the region were 75 percent higher in 2004 than in 1980.

Just over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina, it adds.

UNEP says these emissions are barely counteracted by investments and renewable energy projects, while poverty and deforestation continue to increase vulnerability to climate change.

The highest deforestation rates in the region are seen in small Caribbean nations like St. Lucia and Haiti. In Central America, meanwhile, deforestation rates range from 4.6 percent in El Salvador to 0.8 percent in Costa Rica.

In South America, the highest deforestation rates are seen in Ecuador, "which faces strong population pressure," and Argentina, where the expanding agricultural frontier continues to encroach on the country's forests.

Although Brazil, which accounts for 56 percent of the region's forests, no longer has the worst deforestation problem, the report notes that logging activity in the Brazilian Amazon jungle region increased 32 percent in the last decade, from 14,000 to more than 18,000 square kilometres a year.

The report also mentions the region's "very serious social problems in relation to inequality and poverty," and says "many difficulties stand in the way of finding development patterns that will lead to sustainability capable of meeting the social and environmental challenges for present and future generations."

In the region, the richest 10 percent of the population has 35 percent of the income, while the poorest 40 percent has just 10 percent.

"These indicators have remained stable in most of the countries despite the improvements in economic performance and, except for a few cases, in spite of the predominant social development policies," the study says.

"The failures in adaptation and vulnerability increased as a result of poverty, the degradation of natural resources, the lack of land-use planning and the lack of a significant plan prepared to counteract the damage cause by climate-related disasters," it adds. (END)

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