"En la naturaleza, no hay castigos ni premios, sólo consecuencias."
"In nature, there are no punishments or prizes, only consequences."
The Andes: the Backbone of South America
The effects of climate change will undoubtedly resonate throughout the entire world.
Particular communities and regions will disproportionately feel the impacts of a varying climate across the globe, though. As a biodiversity hot spot, Latin America is one of these regions. This location claims the largest tropical forest in the world, one of the longest mountain ranges, and it is characterized by high species richness as well as many rare and endangered species.
Within Latin America, the Andes Mountains are one of the most susceptible areas to climate change. Damage to these areas will result in further environmental degradation in other areas, as well as impacting human communities.
The IPCC report summary for Central and South America states that the following impacts will be especially applicable to the Andes:
- Conversion of ecosystems is the main cause of biodiversity and ecosystem loss (high confidence)
- Changes in agricultural productivity with consequences for food security (medium confidence)
- Changes to stream flow and water availability will continue affecting already vulnerable regions (high confidence)
- Poor indigenous communities particularly vulnerable to these impacts as well. (high confidence)
The most consequential hazard of climate change facing the biological communities in the Andean region will be alterations to the hydrological cycle.
- There will be more intense downpours in wet regions while dry regions will see longer droughts; if average global temperatures reach 4 degrees Celsius droughts are expected to increase by 20%.
- Other alterations to precipitation cycles include the loss of glaciers as well as degradation of key ecosystems and their related ecosystem services.
- The high probability of future droughts and floods will drastically affect the agricultural sector on which the indigenous communities of the Andes largely depend.
- Climate change and the resulting effects could reverse decades of progress made in the fight against ending world hunger and cause major displacement.
Exposure and Vulnerability
Melting of these glaciers will impact river flow characteristics such as:
- Long-term average discharge, seasonality, and statistical high flows.
- Biota is often adapted to specific flow levels, and is therefore critical to the survival of certain species.
- Variable river flows are also likely to result in invasive or generalist species survival, because other species depend on a stable or predictable habitat. Melting glaciers will also impact the important páramos (wetland ecosystems), contributing to soil erosion and decreasing the area that acts as a buffer zone.
- The high Andean páramos ecosystem illustrates the importance of maintaining a stable climate; this area has vegetation specially adapted to the sponge-like soil, wet grasslands, and lagoons that provide fundamental ecosystem services.
- In addition to sequestering carbon, it acts as flood buffer in the rainy season and then as a reliable water source during the dry season.
The agriculture of Latin America is very dependent on rain-fed systems. These variations have disrupted the farming process in its entirety; the indigenous farmers have lost their reference points among plants and animals that indicated the best time for harvesting or sowing seeds.
- Early rain washes away seeds
- Unexpected drought during the growing season hinders potato tubers from developing
- Rain during the typical dry season rots the potatoes and other crops that have survived until this point
In the high altitudes where the indigenous population depends on crop yields, a reduction in water availability will inevitably culminate into displacement and migration, and ultimately the risk of loss of human lives, livelihood, and property.
Over the past decade, the farmers have already started to see what the future of their landscape will look like as the climate continues to change.
Households in three different villages located in the Department of Junín of Peru were surveyed to document the extent of damage to agriculture caused by climate change. The impact of altered precipitation patterns on crops was severe for 53% of the households, and 45% experience significant negative impacts on income.
Sacred Land Film Project