Impacts of climate change in the Amazon

Climate change and wildlife

Global warming is turning up the temperature beyond acceptable levels. Species capable of moving fast enough will likely attempt to find a more suitable environment; however, many other species will either be unable to move or will have nowhere to go.

Higher temperatures are impacting temperature-dependent species like fish, causing their distribution to change. Some terrestrial species have already invaded higher altitude habitats, but it is expected that many will simply disappear from their current habitats.

Increased temperatures and reduced rainfall in some areas may also reduce suitable habitat during dry, warm months and potentially lead to an increase in invasive, exotic species, which then can out-compete native species.

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Climate change and freshwater ecosystems

Less rainfall during the dry months could seriously affect many Amazon rivers and other freshwater systems, and the people that rely on these resources.

One possible disastrous impact of reduced rainfall is a change in nutrient input into streams and rivers, which can greatly affect aquatic organisms.

A more variable climate and more extreme events will also likely mean that Amazon fish populations will more often experience hot temperatures and potentially lethal environmental conditions.

What the experts say
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that flooding associated with sea-level rise will have substantial impacts on lowland areas such as the Amazon River delta. In fact, the rate of sea-level rise over the last 100 years has been 1.0-2.5 mm per year, and this rate could rise to 5 mm per year.

Sea-level rise, increased temperature, changes in rainfall and runoff will likely cause major changes in species habitats such as mangrove ecosystems.

These factors may also affect the region’s fisheries that depend on mangrove habitat as nurseries and refuge.
Fishermen in the Tocantins River of the Amazon have chosen capture strategies that are specific to seasonal variations in fish behavior and reproduction.

Climatic changes could cause these species to decline in numbers or become extinct, while changes in seasonal fluctuations may change the migratory pattern and ecology of fish species and lead to changes in fish catches.

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Climate change and agriculture

The impacts of climate change are not limited to natural ecosystems. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), projected warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation will undoubtedly impact the agricultural sector (including plantation forestry) in the Amazon.

Particularly hard-hit will be subsidence farming. This is particularly dramatic, as agriculture is the basis of subsistence lifestyles. Agriculture is also the largest user of human capital for rural communities within the Amazon.

Expected climate change impacts:
  • A reduction in rainfall during critical dry months may also lead to increased evapotranspiration and pest and disease infestation, which will likely negatively affect agricultural yields.
  • Larger areas of plantations (at a higher cost) will likely be needed to meet current levels of demand in a warmer world. Scientists estimate that the required plantation area in the Amazon would need to increase as much as 38% to meet demands.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Soya or soy beans (Glycine soja) plantation, Paraná, Brazil
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Subsistence farming in the Amazon is particularly threatened by warming and drying during critical seasons. In northeastern Brazil, people have been suffering from decreased agricultural yields that are among the most severe in the world.

More than 51 million people live in this region, which is prone to periodic droughts and famines. Slight climate changes in this region will likely have major consequences for human populations.

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Climate change and human health

As the impacts of climate change leave their mark across the Amazon region, human populations will not go unaffected.

In addition to the already established relationship between extreme temperatures and increased death rates, it is likely that the Amazonian region will experience an increase in the occurrence of intense weather events with further impacts on humans.

  • Climate change and extreme weather events, such as floods, may lead to increased outbreaks of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue, and increased outbreaks of infectious diseases such as cholera and meningitis.
  • Climate change induced droughts will increase the risk of wildfires with direct impacts on human health from loss of property and smoke inhalation.
  • Increased temperature may also lead to an increase in the distribution and growth of allergenic plants in the region.
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