As the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region battles the health and economic crises caused by COVID-19, many countries suffer additional impacts from the rapidly changing climate. Heat extremes and changing precipitation patterns are already adversely affecting urban areas, agricultural productivity, hydrological regimes, and biodiversity, with impacts on the Amazon rainforest particularly pronounced and devastating. Ocean acidification, sea level rise, tropical cyclones, and temperature changes are expected to negatively impact coastal livelihoods, tourism, health, and food and water security, particularly in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean. For many Andean cities, melting glaciers represent the loss of a major source of the fresh water currently used for consumption, irrigation, and hydroelectric power and contribute to rising sea levels. Climate change, coming on top of the nonclimate stressors that currently limit poverty reduction, job creation, and shared prosperity, poses an additional burden for development.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crises magnify underlying inequities and negatively affect income distribution, poverty, and country revenues. Every year, on average, between 150,000 and 2.1 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because of natural disasters in the region. By 2030, climate change could push 3 million people a year into extreme poverty. Food and nutrition security could be severely impacted, with projected reductions of around 20 percent of crop yields for beans and maize in Central America and the Caribbean. In cities, the poorest neighborhoods are often the most exposed and vulnerable to flooding. The 160 million people without access to a safely managed water supply and the 350 million without access to safe sanitation are highly vulnerable to increases in vector-borne diseases. These economic impacts also translate at the macroeconomic and fiscal levels. For example, in 2018, Argentina lost an estimated $1.5 billion in tax revenue, mostly due to reduced export tax revenues after a severe drought in 2017. These fiscal risks increase public debts, reduce long-term growth, and hamper response to climate-related crises. As these countries recover from COVID, they need support in making the investments that can spur job creation now, lay the foundations for medium- and long- term growth and competitiveness in a climate-changing world, and avoid locking into sectors in ways that leave them uncompetitive or with stranded assets.
To help the LAC region countries meet the pressing demands of a changing climate, the World Bank Group supports countries in delivering on their NDCs and emphasizes the need to mainstream climate actions into lending operations and high-impact areas, including clean energy, green transport, forest restoration, marine conservation, climate-smart agriculture, and urban resilience; other efforts mobilize the private sector to expand climate investments in developing countries. Within LAC, the Bank continues to provide technical and financial support geared toward scaling up climate change mitigation and adaptation actions and leveraging co-benefits. On mitigation, countries utilize sector actions, including energy, waste, transport, forestry, agriculture, and sustainable use of resources in urban area. Adaptation offers myriad opportunities to enhance resilience to climate change impacts through (i) natural disaster preparedness; (ii) enhanced technologies and sector capacities to mitigate risks of extreme weather and hydrology change in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, transport, and energy; and (iii) new financial products to boost resilience.
Specific examples from the past 18 months of the Bank's climate investments in the region include the following:
Opportunities to address climate and COVID-19 vulnerabilities through health measures for key populations. The source of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and contributors to climate change also pose health risks that could compound COVID-19 impacts. Empirical findings note that air pollution, which contributes to climate change, can worsen the impact of COVID-19 by increasing its transmission, making individuals more susceptible to infection, and worsening the severity of the disease. In addition, approaches to addressing the health risks from COVID-19 and other viruses can be leveraged to combat vector- or water-borne illnesses as well, which are exacerbated by climate-induced shocks like natural disasters and floods.
Support for natural disaster response is leveraged to promote climate-responsive recovery. In November 2020, two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, hit Central America in quick succession, resulting in widespread destruction, interrupting basic services, and impeding recovery, all compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency response operations included immediate recovery necessities coupled with improvements to infrastructure and institutional capacity to support medium-term climate resilience. This approach supports the World Bank's priority of building back better following emergencies, including both the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.
Land-use change and agriculture account for 42 percent of emissions from LAC and are critical sectors for economic stability and growth in the region. Opportunities exist to improve productivity in these sectors by maximizing the use of degraded areas and more consistently and holistically planning and enforcing land use. These efforts will result in economic and employment opportunities for sustainable development as well as reducing emissions. LAC countries are implementing first-of-their-kind programs to reduce emissions from forests at a large scale through investments in green jobs and improved land use and productivity.
By integrating use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) with climate change policies, countries can set forward-looking courses while working to meet national development and poverty-reduction goals. ICTs can help drive down GHG emissions by improving efficiency in networks and equipment and, at the same time, by monitoring weather events and informing the population about impeding climate-induced disasters, ICTs help the region's countries adapt to observed and anticipated climate change impacts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the countries' need to maintain a focus on long-term development goals and to continue economic transformation through inclusive and sustainable recovery. The COVID-19 crisis presents opportunities for countries to 'rebuild better,' in greener, more sustainable and resilient ways. Sustainable management of forests and low carbon energy transition can create jobs quickly and can generate long-term benefits by reducing water scarcity and flood damage, lowering carbon emissions, and increasing agricultural productivity and food security.