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Environment in Latin America – statistics & facts

Diverse ecosystems, wildfires, deforestation, and the growing effects of climate change form a complex set of challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean. The consequences of fuel emissions impact the quality of life in the everyday, with high numbers of deaths attributable to air pollution exposure. Elevating temperatures raise sea levels around the globe, and spur devastating events such as wildfires, which are increasingly frequent in South America.

Forests: the threatened lungs of Latin America

Forest land area in Latin America and the Caribbean stood at nearly 943 million hectares in 2019, of which roughly 90 percent was located in South America. Nevertheless, the past decade saw deforestation reduce the area of naturally regenerating forests in South America, which dropped by over three percent, or roughly 30 million hectares – more than the entire area of Ecuador. Forest cover loss in the region is driven mainly by the expansion of agricultural land, in combination with a growing occurrence of wildfires. In 2021, for example, there were more than 325 thousand wildfire outbreaks registered in South America, with Brazil recording by far the largest share. Besides the impact on the region’s forest area and the local fauna and flora, wildfires release naturally sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, worsening global warming, and posing a public health threat to the population surrounding these areas.

Household pollution and poverty

Prominent levels of household air pollution are not a stand-alone risk factor for public health but often result from underlying and critical issues such as economic scarcity and lack of access to basic resources. One of the main causes of household air pollution in Latin America is the burning of solid fuels for heating and cooking, combined with improper ventilation. This was the leading factor behind the high level of air particulate matter in Latin America’s most polluted cities in 2021. While Chilean, Peruvian, and Mexican cities ranked amongst the most polluted, other countries in the region report the more severe rates of exposure to household air pollution from fossil fuels; in 2019, nearly half the population in Honduras and Guatemala was exposed, while for Haiti this figure stood at almost 90 percent.

Climate change

With the impacts of climate change being felt all over the world, in the form of more frequent and intense weather extremes, floods, and wildfires, it is no wonder that the topic has been on the minds of many. According to a 2022 survey conducted in selected Latin American countries, Colombians were the most concerned with climate change, with more than 70 percent of respondents claiming a great deal of concern. Similar figures were recorded for Chile and Mexico. The same survey found that at least three quarters of respondents in all the surveyed countries in the region believed the government needed to take immediate action against climate change, or they would be failing their people.

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