With the Rio+20 conference set to start on June 20th, a report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has warned that if climate change continues to go unchecked, the damage costs to Latin American and Caribbean countries could total $100 billion per year by 2050. According to the report, those costs will be a reality if average temperatures rise 2 degrees celsius from pre-industrial levels, which is looking very likely.
The IDB is the main source of multilateral financing in Latin America, so it’s no surprise that the report’s findings are of a major cause of concern for them. The $100 billion in annual damages would be the result of diminishing agricultural yields, disappearing glaciers, flooding, droughts and other events triggered by a warming planet, all of which are due to be discussed at the upcoming Brazilian conference. The report states that various countries need to “dramatically increase its investment in climate change adaptation and mitigation in the coming decades.”
The report wasn’t all doom and gloom however, as the IDB estimated that the cost of investments in adaptation to address these impacts is much smaller, in the order of one tenth the physical damages. That means that it would only cost about $10 billion to counter the effects of potential catastrophe.
“Many climate-related changes are irreversible and will continue to impact the region over the long term,” said Walter Vergara, the IDB’s Division Chief of Climate Change and Sustainability and the lead researcher of the study, whose preliminary findings were presented today in Washington at an event jointly hosted by the IDB and the Center for American Progress (CAP). “To prevent further damages, adaptation is necessary but not enough. Bolder actions are needed to bend the emissions curve in the coming decades.”
The real kicker is that while they’re likely to take the brunt of the damage, Latin America and the Caribbean contribute only 11 percent of the emissions that cause global warming. Due to the region’s low-lying nature, however, many Latin American nations are especially vulnerable to its effects. It also doesn’t help that they have some of the world’s most delicate ecosystems, including the Amazon rainforest, the Caribbean coral biome, coastal wetlands and assorted mountain ecosystems.
The $100 billion in damage will be a result of agricultural areas being devastated, exposure to tropical diseases and changing rainfall patterns. The loss of net agricultural exports also is expected to cost between $30 billion and $52 billion by 2050.
Despite efforts to reduce their own carbon emissions, the report states that the best way to “bend the emission curve” is to promote net-zero emissions from deforestation and other land-use practices by 2030. On top of that, it urges efforts to eliminate the carbon footprint in the power matrix and transport infrastructure by 2050.
“Yes, spending $110 billion a year for a region that faces major development challenges is not an easy proposition,” said Pablo Gutman, the Director of Environmental Economics at the WWF. “However, this would also bring about major benefits such as improved food and energy security; people would have healthier lives in cleaner environments.”
$100 billion per year for catastrophic damage or $110 billion per year for sustainable change. Decisions, decisions.