Key Latin American natural ecosystems facing climate change

November 21, 2023

Natural ecosystems are an important source of protection and adaptation to climate change, since they contribute, among others, to moderating extreme weather events, regulating the climate, and absorbing carbon emissions. Thanks to its rich nature, Latin America and the Caribbean hold the key to global sustainability.

Key Latin American natural ecosystems facing climate change
Latin America and the Caribbean have transnational strategic ecosystems of enormous relevance that cover the entire regional territory and are interconnected with each other and with other hemispheric ecosystems. They provide key ecosystem services to guarantee the livelihoods of their inhabitants and, therefore, their economic value is very significant.
It is estimated that around a third of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed over the next decade could be achieved by improving nature's ability to absorb emissions. This reality makes the region one of the most relevant actors in global climate action.
The ecosystem approach promotes the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in an equitable manner, considering their ecological, social, and economic context.
CAF wants to take advantage of COP28 to highlight the strategic ecosystems that characterize the region and that are a solution, dedicating special attention to ten of them.
The “Ecosystem of the Day” series in the LAC Pavilion offers a space for dynamic dialogue, where panelists highly recognized for their work and experience in the ecosystem, will present some of the challenges, characteristics, projects, and opportunities of these solution biomes:
  • Paramos: they are high mountain ecosystems in the Andes that are characterized by their high biodiversity and endemism, but also by their ecological fragility, they are vital for 85 million people, providing water to cities such as Bogotá and Quito. The Andean paramo occupies more than 35,000 km2. In addition to their biological importance and capacity for water storage and regulation, they are also fundamental in the behavior of the climate, and the hydrological cycle and, therefore, for the economic and social development of the population.
  • Patagonia: spread between Argentina and Chile, it has dry steppes in danger of fires and humid Patagonian forests in the mountains. The steppe suffers from livestock farming, and the forests, rich in biodiversity with 84 species of mammals, are threatened by invasive species. Southern Chile and Argentina, what we call Patagonia and Antarctica, are the global reservoirs for the mitigation of carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, the Chilean-Argentine Patagonia and the ocean that surrounds the Antarctic continent is responsible for 43% of the capture of anthropogenic CO2 and 75% of the incorporation of excess atmospheric heat, as a consequence of global warming.
  • Tumbes Forests in Chocó and Magdalena, Colombia: The Tumbesian dry forest faces environmental and social threats. Chocó, biodiverse and endemic, suffers from deforestation. The Magdalena River basin, vital for Colombia, suffers from erosion and pollution, affecting its rich aquatic biodiversity and the dependent population. The Tumbesian dry forest is an ecoregion of great importance due to its high biological value in flora and fauna. Dry forests capture carbon and can help remedy global warming, slow global warming and stabilize climate change. Likewise, the Tumbes, Chocó, Magdalena system contributes to the development of more productive ecosystems and hydrographic basins with greater water yield.
  • Atlantic Forest: originally consisted of 130 million hectares in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, but now retains less than 10% due to deforestation. Reduced to scattered fragments, it is one of the most endangered biomes in the world, according to UNESCO. Emblematic species such as the jaguar, the tapir, the golden lion tamarin (Brazil), and many species of toucans live in its forests, among many others. In just one hectare of forest are around 450 species of trees. Its biological richness is so varied, containing 7% of the plant species and 5% of the vertebrate animal species in the world. Many of these plants and animals are endemic. The forest is one of the main lungs that provide oxygen. They also help regulate the climate and protect the soil, and with their great diversity of animals and plants, they provide services such as pollination, provide food, medicine, and even their important plant coverage, they perform the main tasks so that we can have water in our homes. aquifers, streams, and rivers.
  • Mesoamerican biological corridor: connects natural areas in Central America and southern Mexico, and is crucial for the migration of species. Home to between 7 and 10% of terrestrial species, it requires collaboration with local communities for its sustainable conservation. Biological corridors and their conservation are key to ensuring the life of a wide variety of animals, especially those that are in danger of extinction. Likewise, being protected areas could reduce the impact of climate change on plants. Its effectiveness depends on its altitude range, temperatures, and the speed of climate change, and the effects vary depending on how quickly species can move.
  • Mangroves: are vital for 70% of marine organisms and provide ecosystem services valued at USD 1.6 billion annually. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 72% are protected, exceeding the global average of 42%. Mangroves have the capacity to store more carbon than many tropical forests. This makes them true natural shields for environmental protection, as they help mitigate the effects of climate change on Earth.
  • Amazon: is home to between 16 and 20% of the planet's fresh water and 25% of its biodiversity, along with thousands of species. It is experiencing rapid deforestation that affects all countries that share this biome. Climate change intensifies the loss of forests, altering the water cycle and threatening their vital function. The Amazon plays a crucial role in regulating the global climate, because the Amazon rainforest absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and mitigate climate change. In fact, it is estimated that the Amazon absorbs between 10% and 15% of the world's annual carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Humboldt Current: this ecosystem places Peru and Chile among the 10 largest fishing producers. It provides 20% of the fish catch and is home to 1,000 species. Its high productivity attracts industrial and artisanal fishing, oil activity, and coastal development. Fishery products from the Humboldt Current ecosystem - which include wild fishing, aquaculture, and products such as fishmeal and fish oils - are an important part of value chains around the world and provide food to millions of people. in South America, Africa, and Asia.
  • Gran Chaco and Pantanal: are vital in South America, as they host unique biodiversity and offer ecosystem services. The Chaco, a large carbon reserve, is crucial for indigenous communities. The Pantanal, the largest freshwater wetland on the planet, faces threats such as deforestation and agricultural expansion. According to the Pantanal Observatory, this ecosystem provides environmental services such as climate regulation, biological control, and soil fertility, and is home to 53 species of amphibians, 159 species of mammals, 98 species of reptiles, 656 species of birds, 325 species of fish, 1,030 butterflies and more than 3,500 plant species.