Climatic Vulnerability

Inter-American Development Bank

Excerpt from Ecological Design: Strategies for the Vulnerable City. IDB 2021. by Felipe Vera and Jeannette Sordi.

On a regional scale, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. By 2050, it is predicted that the rise in sea level, in temperature, and in the rate of rainfall will translate into an annual cost of approximately 2% to 4% of the GDP.[1] However, the region also contributes to 12% of GHG emissions globally, which is driven by forest, agricultural, and extractive sectors.[2] In per capita terms, LAC generates more greenhouse gas emissions than other developing countries, such as China or India.

Map 05

To understand the scale of the climate challenge of each country, it is useful to understand the relative weight and reconstruct the chronology of the emissions in the region. For example, looking at CO2 emissions, we can see how Latin America represents a relatively small percentage of global CO2 emissions. However, both global and Latin American emissions follow the same global pattern of rapid increase up until the last five years, where it is shown to have stagnated and even slightly decreased.

Map 06

If we compare, for example, the GDP with the amount of GHG emissions of these countries, in many cases it is clear how the relation is directly proportional, and at the same time, inversely proportional to the affected population, which is manifested in issues of equity, social justice, and rights to the city. The general trend shows that the effects of the emissions are spread indiscriminately and affect every country in the world. The trend also shows that the GDP influences the share of emissions as well as the amount of people affected and mortality.[3]

Map 07

As well as developments in emission reduction on a city scale, the region is confronting great challenges in augmenting its resilience to new and changing scenarios. If, in general, we think of the impact of climate change in cities as a phenomenon of the future, 70% of cities are currently dealing with the effects of climate change.[4] The financial effects of climate change could be as devastating as the physical effects. Furthermore, the unexpected disruptions of storms, floods, and droughts can provoke important disruptions to the city’s government as well as commercial operations. Given the rise in the recurrence of these phenomena, the capacity for fiscal reaction and uptake will also be reduced, which will in turn limit the capacity for resilience in those countries.[5] This can be seen in Map 05, which displays disasters related to climate change that have been reported by Latin American cities with over 300,000 inhabitants. To the left is a description of the relation between the number of disasters and the magnitude of the impact. To the right, the cities that have been impacted by more common disasters are displayed, including: droughts, storms, and heat waves.[6] Natural disasters already imply important losses for countries in this region.

Map 08

Due to climatic inequality, the direct costs of these changes will most likely be borne by the least favorable parts of cities, which are precisely for whom we should propose agile and effective solutions. To the right of this graph, there is a comparison between natural disasters (mortality and population affected) represented by the average over the last ten years, and the GDP of Latin American countries. The trend shows that the majority of the countries have been affected by (at least) one disaster per year in the last decade, and over 50% have had two or more natural disasters. Smaller countries with a low GDP are less equipped to face the aftermath of disasters. For example, Haiti suffered an average of four disasters per year with over 20,000 deaths, which is approximately 10 times more than any other country in Latin America.

Map 09

With respect to vulnerability to climate change, Caribbean countries are in the lead (Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bahamas, Guyana, Haiti, and Jamaica). However, with regard to vulnerability, only Haiti and Guyana are in the five most vulnerable countries, along with Cuba, Bolivia, and Paraguay.[7] Another example is the case of Hurricane Mitch that in 1998 affected Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, causing 3 million injuries, which is 12% of the population. Due to the cities’ failure to react in the recuperation phase after the disaster, there is no certain data on the matter; however, it is clear that many families emigrated from their cities of origin, which was used as an adjustment strategy through pre-existing migration corridors.[8]

Map 10

For example, Argentina is among the 14 countries that are most affected by floods, arriving at losses of 1.1% of the National Gross Domestic Product.[9] Long-term projections (which are always subject to incertitude) estimate that by the year 2100 the sea will have risen between 10 to 90 centimeters, and that global warming could oscillate between 1.4°C and 5.8°C.[10] This could signify the displacement of whole cities and affect different islands around the globe, whose migration population would be absorbed by cities.[11] These displacements will principally be due to the worsening consequences of global warming, which could generate alterations in monsoon systems, unexpected rains,[12] large droughts,[13] and a significant rise in the sea level. These will completely transform the landscape of coastal development across the globe.

Map 11

The effects of climate change heavily impact the most vulnerable populations in the region and increase migratory flows, which are increasingly propelled for climatic reasons. Between 2000 and 2015, 8 million people in South America migrated for environmental reasons.[14] The following maps demonstrate the impact of environmental crisis and climatic events on migratory flows. Maps 06 to 13 show the environmental motors of migration via different conditions of migratory flows. Map 06, for example, exposes displacements for environmental and geomorphologic reasons. The countries with the least amount of displacements do have more immigration (Belize, Panama, and Suriname). Cities with a large population are highlighted, such as Puebla, Guatemala City, Havana, Santo Domingo (which receives many migrants from Haiti), Curitiba, and Porto Alegre. In Argentina, the country with the highest number of regional immigrants, Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Córdoba are highlighted. In the same vein, Map 09 shows the change in land use, which is reflected in the map to the left of the graph. The statistics seen on the right show the NPP (Net Primary Productivity, the velocity at which trees store energy such as biomass, and absorb carbon). This variable follows only one indicative pattern in Belize, which has a high NPP and immigration. In the other extreme is Paraguay, whose very low NPP coincides with very high immigration. Map 10 represents the risk of river flooding, which is scattered throughout the region, concentrating at the center of South America. Havana, Guatemala City, Lima, Guayaquil, Recife, and Salvador are highlighted as the largest cities which are at risk of flooding. Additionally, Map 12 represents the basic depletion of water, according to the relation between the total consumption of water and available renewable water supply.

Map 12

The total consumption of water includes domestic, industrial, irrigation, and expenditure uses. Available renewable water supplies include the impact of the users of upstream water (consumption) and large dams on the availability of downstream water. The significant decrease of water from the source is similar to hydrological stress from the source; however, in place of using the total extraction of water (consumptive as well as non-consumptive), the depletion of the baseline is calculated using only the consumptive extraction (WRI Aqueduct, 2019). The areas that currently consume more water in relation to its resources are the eastern Andes, southeastern and northeastern Argentina, and northern Mexico. Cities that are highlighted for their consumption of water in relation to their size and consumption are Mexico City, Monterrey, and Santiago.

Map 13

In the same line, Map 13 shows the base hydric stress, which measures the relation between the total extraction of water and renewable underground and superficial water supplies. Water extractions include domestic, industrial, and agricultural uses as well as breeders of consumption and non-consumption. The available renewable water supplies include the impact of the water users who consume upstream water and large dams on the availability of downstream water. The highest values indicate more competition between the users (WRI Aqueduct, 2019). The areas that currently suffer a high hydric stress are the eastern Andes, southeastern Argentina, and northern Mexico and Venezuela (there is currently a large number of people emigrating from Venezuela). In this context, it is important to note that the countries in these regions have presented their nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, reflecting their objectives to reduce emissions as a measure of adaptation to climate change. This will limit the rise in global temperatures to far lower than 2°C on top of preindustrial levels. These efforts will continue, increasing the limit in the rise in temperature to up to 1.5°C. However, these compromises should be integrated vertically in order to secure the maintenance of the targets on a subnational and local level. In order to allow for the planification and execution of mitigation and adaptation on an urban scale, we must take into account the territorialization of this process, changing the patterns of emission and making sure that the local context is taken into account when thinking of solutions of resilience. This is a key milestone in the increase of quality of life for the most marginalized neighborhoods that are vulnerable to climate change.

Felipe Vera, Jeannette Sordi

Research Coordination:
Milagros A. Barchi

Research Team:
Diego Arcía, Soledad Patiño, Soledad Rodríguez, Maura Mantelli, Fernando Toro, Guadalupe Rojo

Research Contributions and Cartographies:
Groundlab Architectural Association: Clara Olóriz Sanjuán, Jose Alfredo Ramirez Galindo, Daniel Kiss, Iulia Stefan, Elena Luciano Suastegui, Rotem Lewinsohn y Rafael Martínez Caldera
Daniel Ibañez, Grga Basic, Juan Francisco Saldarriaga, Clay Lin
Ecosistema Urbano

[1] Inter-American Bank of Development. (n.d.). Cambio Climático: Nuevas oportunidades de desarrollo.
[2] In the case of Latin American mega-cities, it is estimated that Buenos Aires produces 9,917 Gg of Co2-eq/year; Mexico City, 51 million tons of CO2-eq/year; Rio de Janeiro, 11,300 Gg of CO2-eq/ year, and São Paulo, 15,700 Gg of Co2-eq/year. For the distribution of greenhouse gas emissions, see Graph 5. Delgado, G., Campos C., and Renteria, P. Climate change and urban metabolism of Latin American megacities. Hábitat Sustentable 2 (1) (2012), 2–25.
[3] Data source for the graph: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (n.d.) Global Health Data Exchange.; Ritchie, H. and Roser, M. (2014). Natural disasters. Our world in data.; The World Bank. (n.d.) The World Bank Data Catalog.; United Nations. (n.d.). United Nations Global SDG Database.; EM-DAT. (n.d.) The International Disaster Database.
[4] C40 Cities and UCCRN. (2018), 4.
[5] Chafe, Z. (2007). Reducing natural disaster risk in cities. In Starke, L. (Ed.), State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future. W.W. Norton, 112–33; Wamsler, C. (2006).
[6] Data source for the map: CDP. (n.d.) 2018-2019 Full Cities Dataset, 2017 dataset. /vzxs-ejjs
[7] Data source for the graph: Center for Global Development. (2011). Dataset: Vulnerability to Climate Change.
[8] Canales, A., Fuentes, J., and de León, C. (2019). Desarrollo y migración: desafíos y oportunidades en los países del norte de Centroamérica. Mexico City, Economic Commission for Latin America, 132-133.
[9] Aruj, R. with Priotto, G. Pires, E. (2017). Migrations, environment and climate change - Case studies in South America. Regional IOM South America.
[10] CDP. (n.d.) Cities at Risk: Dealing with the Pressures of Climate Change.
[11] Perales, A. S. and Lastiri, A. (2011). Refugiados Ambientales, cambio climático y capitalismo, integración geoestratégica, seguridad, fronteras y migración en América Latina. Serie Investigación 23: 147. Regional Foundation for Human Rights Advisory, INREDH.
[12] Basterra, N., Valiente, M., and Glibota, S. (2010). Evaluación del riesgo ambiental por inundación con SIG del valle fluvial del río Paraná próximo a los núcleos urbanos de Resistencia y Corrientes. Chaco Province, Environmental Management Center and Ecology, CEGAE.
[13] Sili, M. (2019). Deseos de futuro, intencionalidades y construcción de territorios. La experiencia de zonas rurales en la Región Chaqueña Argentina. Papeles de Geografía 65: 30–48.
[14] Pires, E. (2018). La migración ambiental en el Pacto Mundial para una migración segura, ordenada y regular: desafíos y aportes para América Latina y el Caribe. Brazil/Argentina, RESAMA South American Network for Environmental Migrations.