Bloomberg — Heat, drought and floods — made worse by climate change — decimated crops in Latin America in 2021, leading to thousands of people falling victim to food insecurity and impacting global markets, according to the latest report by the World Meteorological Organization.
Warming in Latin America and the Caribbean is accelerating, with temperatures in the region increasing 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade on average between 1991 and 2021, compared to 0.1°C per decade between 1961 and 1990, according to the WMO’s second State of Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean report released on Friday.
“Droughts, heatwaves, cold waves, tropical cyclones and floods, have unfortunately led to the loss of hundreds of lives, severe damages to crop production and infrastructure and human displacement,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement. “The continued degradation of the Amazon rainforest is still being highlighted as a major concern for the region but also for global climate, considering the role of the forest in the carbon cycle.”
The planet has already warmed 1.1°C above the pre-industrial average and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keep increasing. Developing nations, including many in South America, are suffering the most from the consequences of a global warming that has been caused by carbon emissions released mainly by developed countries.
Below-average rainfall in key agriculture producers such as Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay led to a 2.6% decline in South America’s 2021 cereal harvest, according to research by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization cited by the report. The shift in precipitation patterns was partly related to La Nina, while climate change very likely played a role in at least some of the extreme weather events in the region.
A mega-drought in Chile continued for the 13th consecutive year in 2021, making it the longest drought in the region in at least 1,000 years, according to the WMO. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that there is medium confidence that the drought in central Chile can be attributed to human influence.
In the Parana-La Plata river basin, which runs along Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, the worst drought since 1944 is impacting agriculture production, reducing output of soybean and corn and impacting global food markets. The export of cereals, 80% of which happens through the Parana River, was also affected as water levels fell to the lowest since the 1940s.
Greater climate impacts are bound to take place in the region, according to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, with precipitation patterns shifting, temperatures rising, Andean glaciers melting and the two great oceans that flank the continent — the Pacific and the Atlantic — becoming warmer and more acidic.
Deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon have doubled compared to the 2009-2018 average and reached the highest levels since 2009, according to the report. The rainforest has been hit by fires, too, with 75,000 blazes reported in 2021, most of them associated with human activity.
The Brazilian Amazon was also subjected to floods in 2021, which affected over 450,000 people and led to losses of around $40 million. In the states of Bahia and Minas Gerais, floods caused about $3.1 billion in damage and impacted over 800,000 people.
“Worsening climate change and the compounding effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have not only impacted the biodiversity of the region, but have also stalled decades of progress against poverty, food insecurity and the reduction of inequality in the region,” Mario Cimoli, acting executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.