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Climate change impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean and their implications for development

This paper synthesizes what is known about the physical and biophysical impacts of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean and their consequences for societies and development.

Nella Canales / Published on 9 April 2018

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Reyer, C., Adams, S., Albrecht, T. et al. (2017). Climate change impacts in Latin America and the Caribbean and their implications for development. Regional Environmental Change. 17.

Hanging Glacier of Queulat National Park, Chile. Glaciers across Latin America will be affected by climate change, especially those further north. Photo: AlbertoLoyo / Getty Images.

Projections show increasing mean temperatures of up to 4.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of this century across Latin America and the Caribbean. Associated physical impacts include altered precipitation regimes, a strong increase in heat extremes, higher risks of drought and increasing aridity. Moreover, the mean intensity of tropical cyclones, as well as the frequency of the most intense storms, is projected to increase while sea levels are expected to rise by ~0.2–1.1 mm depending on warming level and region. Tropical glacier volume is found to decrease substantially, with almost complete deglaciation under high warming levels. The much larger glaciers in the southern Andes are less sensitive to warming and shrink on slower timescales. Runoff is projected to be reduced in Central America, the southern Amazon basin and southernmost South America, while river discharge may increase in the western Amazon basin and in the Andes in the wet season. Climate change will also reduce agricultural yields, livestock and fisheries, although there may be opportunities such as increasing rice yield in several LAC countries or higher fish catch potential in the southernmost South American waters. Species range shifts threaten terrestrial biodiversity, and there is a substantial risk of Amazon rainforest degradation with continuing warming. Coral reefs are at increasing risk of annual bleaching events from 2040 to 2050 onwards irrespective of the climate scenario.

These physical and biophysical climate change impacts challenge human livelihoods through, e.g., decreasing income from fisheries, agriculture or tourism. Furthermore, there is evidence that human health, coastal infrastructures and energy systems are also negatively affected. This paper concludes that the region will be severely affected by climate change, even under lower levels of warming, due to the potential for impacts to occur simultaneously and compound one another.

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SEI author

Nella Canales
Nella Canales

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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Topics and subtopics
Climate : Mitigation, Adaptation

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