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Introduction

GRID-Arendal is pleased to present another item in our series of Vital Graphics". GRID-Arendal specialises in the production of easily understandable science based information in order to promote public awareness and have an impact on decision-making processes to steer the development in a sustainable direction.

Vital Climate Graphics Latin America and the Caribbean focuses on the contributions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and the special challenges that climate changes imposes on Latin America and the Caribbean. The Intergubernamental Panel on Climate Change’s Third Assessment Report (TAR), Climate Change 2001, reports a warming of approximately 0.7°C over most of the Latin America and the Caribbean during the 20th century, as in other places in the world.

While the exact nature of the changes in temperature, precipitation, and extreme events are not known, there is a general agreement that extreme events may get worse and more frequent. By the end of this century, global mean surface temperature is expected to increase by between 1.5 ºC and  6 ºC. Sea levels are projected to rise by between 9 and 88 cm the next hundred years. These are significant increases, and it is likely that the temperature increase is due to emissions of greenhouse gases mainly caused by human activities.

During the last 400 000 years the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has varied between 200-300  parts per million per volume (ppmv).  However, during the last hundred years the content has increased to 375 ppmv in 2003 and there is a risk of an accelerating increase. Due to amplification of the greenhouse effect, risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly. Many coral reefs and even the Amazon rainforest could suffer irreversible damage. In addition comes the risk of sea level rise due to rapid melting of the world’s glaciers and thermal expansion of the oceans. 

The impact of global warming on human life, livelihoods and economies will significant. Reliable and easily understandable information is needed to establish the right level of attention that is required to mitigate the worst consequences. 

Latin America and the Caribbean cover an area of approximately 19.9 million km2. This region includes countries with the planet’s greatest fresh water reserves and is among the most biologically diverse. However, several countries in the region are vulnerable to extreme weather and other climate change phenomena that may endanger biodiversity and the general basis for development.  This is in particular true of the Small Island States in the Caribbean.

In the period 1970-2002, Latin American economic development indicators were fluctuating significantly – from a decrease of 5.6 percent in 1971-1980 GDP growth to only 1.2 percent in 1981-1990, and an increase up to 3.3 percent GDP growth per year in the decade 1991-2000. The poverty that followed the collapse of the petroleum business in the 1980s was only reversed in the 1990s. During the last decade, as a result of economic reforms and private sector development, inflation rates reduced and the population who lived below the poverty level decreased significantly. Latin America and the Caribbean represent the region with greatest income inequality in the world.

The population in Latin America and the Caribbean grew by 85 percent between 1970 and 2001, from 285 million to about 528 million. In the same time, the annual growth rates fell from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent, which is largely due to high level of urbanization, improvements in birth control programmes and social development factors.

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