Extreme weather and climate shocks are becoming more acute in Latin America and the Caribbean, as the long-term warming trend and sea level rise accelerate, according to a new report from the WMO entitled the State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2022.
Temperatures over the past 30 years have warmed an average 0.2°C per decade – the highest rate on record. The report highlights spiraling impacts on countries and local communities, including:
- Prolonged drought led to a drop in hydroelectricity production in large parts of South America, prompting an upsurge in demand for fossil fuels in a region with major untapped potential for renewable energy.
- Extreme heat combined with dry soils to fuel periods of record wildfires at the height of summer 2022, leading CO2 emissions to spike to the highest levels in 20 years and thereby locking in even higher temperatures.
- There was a near total loss of snowpack in summer 2022 in the central Andean glaciers, with dirty and dark glaciers absorbing more solar radiation, which in turn accelerated the melt.
“Many of the extreme events were influenced by the long-running La Niña but also bore the hallmark of human-induced climate change,” said WMO secretary-general Prof. Petteri Taalas.
“The newly arrived El Niño will turn up the heat and bring with it more extreme weather. Early warnings will be vital to protect lives and livelihoods.
“The top priority areas for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the region are agriculture and food security, and energy. The report addresses these key topics, highlighting the impacts of the persistent droughts in the region on agricultural production and the unexploited potential of renewable energy, especially solar and wind resources.”
Latin America and the Caribbean has a high share of modern renewables in total final energy consumption, mainly because of hydropower. However, there is also the potential to tap into the region’s solar and wind resources, which accounted for only 16% of the total renewable generation in 2020.
The Latin America and the Caribbean region is highly vulnerable to climate risks because about three quarters of the population live in informal urban settlements and about 8% of the population is undernourished.
- The period from 1991 to 2022 showed an average warming trend of about 0.2°C per decade (and higher in Mexico and the Caribbean).
- Sea level continued to rise at a higher rate in the South Atlantic and the subtropical North Atlantic compared with the global mean.
- Tropical cyclones, in particular Hurricanes Fiona, Lisa and Ian, caused severe damage in Central America and the Caribbean.
- Floods and landslides triggered by heavy rainfall led to hundreds of fatalities and billions of US dollars in economic losses.
- Prolonged drought harmed important economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation and water supply.
- In January, November and December 2022, southern South America suffered from long and intense heatwaves.
Major climate drivers
Latin America and the Caribbean is surrounded by the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, and the climate is largely influenced by the prevailing sea-surface temperatures and associated large-scale atmosphere-ocean coupling phenomena, such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
Last year marked the third consecutive year of La Niña conditions. This was associated with higher air temperatures and precipitation deficits over northern Mexico, a prolonged period of drought conditions over much of south-eastern South America, and increased rainfall in parts of Central America and northern South America and in the Amazon region.
Climate-related impacts and risks
The Latin American and Caribbean population must be made more aware of climate-related risks, and early warning systems in the region need to be strengthened and to reach communities who need them most. Only 60 % of the population is covered by Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems, according to 2020 data.
In 2022, 78 meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards were reported in the region, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT).
Of these, 86% were storm- and flood-related events and accounted for 98% of the 1,153 fatalities documented in the database.
The US$9bn in economic damages reported to EM-DAT was mainly due to drought (40%) and storms (32%). The real figures related to the impacts of extreme events are presumed to be worse because of under-reporting and because data on impacts are not available for some countries.