The following guest post about the effects of climate change in Peru was written by Josy O’Donnel, the creator of Conservation Institute. See the end of the article for more about the author.

Climate change in Peru: Heavy snow

Heavy snowfall in the Cusco Region in 2013. Photo by adan smith, Wikimedia Commons.

Each day, more evidence emerges on the catastrophic effects of climate change. In the environmental arena, climate change is currently one of the most significant, worrisome, and debated issues. There is still more to learn about climate change and how it affects the planet, but researchers and scientists continue to make alarming discoveries about what changes have occurred so far, and what further changes will occur in the future, to Earth’s global climate.

What Is Climate Change?

Climate change, also called “global warming,” refers to an increase in average air temperatures on Earth. Climate change, according to the vast majority of scientists (see here, here and here if you have any doubts about that), is caused by humanity’s copious use of fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide into the air when they are burned.

Ultimately, these particles make their way into the atmosphere. There, they can linger for years, and even decades. Unlike natural particles, they fail to break down. The extended presence of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases has wide-ranging effects on the planet’s ecosystems. Toxic particles that stay in the atmosphere trap heat, which causes air temperatures to rise in the atmosphere as well as closer to the earth’s surface.

The Consequences of Climate Change in Peru

Sea Level Rise

When toxic particles stay in the atmosphere for a long time, a plethora of problems arise. One is sea level rise. Sea level rise essentially means that the volume of the world’s oceans is expanding. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a big change to have negative effects.

Air temperatures that increase only slightly can cause sea levels to rise dramatically, which in turn increases the risk of severe flooding. Storm surges rise to higher levels during coastal storms, which intensifies and accelerates beach erosion. This also jeopardizes people and property along the coast. According to NASA, global sea levels are expected to rise from 1 to 4 feet by 2021.

In Peru, this could result in beaches along the Lima Coastal Zone being submerged. In 2012, the Peruvian Navy’s department of oceanography warned that rising sea levels as a result of climate change could make some popular areas on Peru’s coast uninhabitable in 80 years. These areas include, but are certainly not limited to, the neighborhood of La Punta in the port city of Callao, and the upper-class beach district of Asia, located just outside of Lima. Mancora, the popular beach town on Peru’s north coast, could also be impacted.

Glacial Melt

Another consequence of climate change, which directly affects Peru, is glacial melt. Glaciers are huge sheets of ice and snow that are so vast they normally don’t melt. What makes the glaciers in Peru different from glaciers elsewhere is that they are tropical glaciers.

In total, Peru has nearly 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers. Both tropical glaciers and arctic glaciers are in peril, as rising air temperatures are causing them to lose ice more quickly than they acquire new snow.

In Peru, one consequence of glacial melt is seen at Lake Palcacocha, a glacial lake in the Cordillera Blanca. The lake is becoming ever more swollen with glacial meltwater, and residents in the nearby town of Huaraz, located directly below the lake, fear a repeat of an earlier tragedy. In 1941, a chunk of ice broke away from the glacier during an earthquake and fell into the lake. The resulting flood wave sent an avalanche of mud and boulders spilling down the mountain towards Huaraz. It reached the city, killing at least 5,000 people.

The lake is now potentially even more dangerous. In April 2003, NASA scientists discovered a fissure in the glacier above Lake Palcacocha on Terra satellite images. This fissure and any potential collapse, combined with the significant rise in the lake’s water levels in recent years, has the potential to unleash another tragedy. The Peruvian government is planning strategies to control glacial melt in the future by artificially draining some water from the lake.

Climate change in Peru: Glacial melt

The city of Huaraz and Lake Palcacocha. Photo by NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

Severe Weather

Severe storms, such as hurricanes, rainstorms, and snowstorms, are becoming more frequent and devastating as the earth’s temperatures rise. In 2013, unprecedented snowfall forced the Peruvian government to declare a state of emergency in 10 regions. Over 100,000 residents were impacted as a result of the snow, and tens of thousands of animals died.

Mudslides caused by heavier and more frequent rainfall are also affecting the country. In the future, mudslides are expected to become more prevalent and more dangerous. They pose a great risk to human and animal life, as well as any property and man-made structures in their path.

Droughts And Floods

Rising air temperatures can also rob streams, lakes, and rivers of their water supplies. This creates droughts, which affect everything from Peru’s agricultural output to the resilience of the surrounding lands.

Today, about one-third of Peru’s population is engaged in agricultural activities. The crops and products produced through agriculture produce over 62% of the country’s food supply. Over 50% of Peru’s farmlands depend on rainfall to generate crops, which means they are in jeopardy if rainfall volumes are affected by climate change.

The consequences of drought are already apparent in the Amazon. Between 2010 and 2012, a serious drought occurred in the Amazon. As a result, the Amazon’s trees produced more carbon dioxide than oxygen, which tremendously affected the surrounding ecosystem. In the areas around the Amazon, and elsewhere around the country, the drying lands are becoming more susceptible to outbreaks of wildfires.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, rising air temperatures will also create heavier rainfall in some locations, which in turn causes flooding. In 2017, some parts of Peru experienced rainfall amounts up to 10 times their normal amount. This created especially problematic landslides and floods in the coastal areas, which usually have a semi-arid climate. Torrential rains have also impacted other parts of the country.

Climate change in Peru: Flooding

Flooding in La Tinguiña District, Peru, in December 2016. Photo by Galeria del Ministerio de Defensa del Perú, flickr.

What Is Peru Doing To Combat Climate Change?

Although Peru’s stunning natural features are a source of pride, they are also directly (and severely) affected by global warming. Therefore, the Peruvian government is taking swift action against climate change.

Since 2000, Peru has been recognized as a global leader in stopping climate change. Currently, the country’s emissions reductions plan has over 75 specific components to reduce emissions by over 40% over the next few years.

In 2010, the Peruvian government pledged to cut deforestation down to zero percent by 2021. This will decrease the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half (specifically, 47.5%). In addition to its government setting rules and regulations, and taking concrete action to combat climate change, Peru also works with several national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profit entities to mitigate climate change and manage its impacts.

About the Author: Hi! I am Josy O’Donnel, and I am the creator of Conservation Institute. While completing my bachelors degree, I developed an interest in the study of Earth’s future and the conservation of Earth’s natural resources. Years after, I am still immersed in these subjects. I want to share my passion with an online community of people who are devoted spreading awareness and attention to the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth.

Josie O'Donnel, climate change in Peru