26.4 Fighting Global Warming in Peru

Diego E. Shoobridge , Peace Corps, Lima, Peru
Peru is a country that hosts varied ecosystems and great biological diversity.  It’s a country of contrasts: its landscapes include the Amazon rainforest, wherein lies the country’s forestry potential, the Andes mountains, with their snow-capped peaks and glaciers, and the coastal desert of the Pacific, providing important hydro-biological resources.

 

The increase in temperature due to global warming affects Peru in many ways.  It affects the biological diversity of the Amazon; the change in temperature alters the composition and location of ecosystems.  The eastern part of the Andes, covered in vegetation, hosts varied ecosystems determined basically by the altitude and the associated temperature; with an increase in altitude, temperature diminishes.  Increasing temperatures will affect higher and higher altitudes, transforming the characteristics and composition of ecosystems, causing the mass extinction of species, especially plants, which can not migrate to higher elevations.

 

The glaciers of the Andes mountains form the rivers that flow to both the Amazon in the east and the coastal desert valleys of the west, upon which agricultural production and many cities depend.  The melting glaciers are receding at an alarmingly rapid rate.  This implies that both the Amazon and the coast will receive diminishing quantities of water in the years to come.  In the future, the frequency of avalanches and flooding will increase during the rainy season, while the dry season will become more severe.  The agricultural capacity of the coast, an important center of production for consumption and exportation, will be lost.  Water will be insufficient for irrigation as well as for human consumption in the cities.

 

Besides temperature increases attributable to global factors, the glaciers of the Andes are additionally affected by local factors: the burning of the Amazon rainforest and, most importantly, the burning of pastures on mountain slopes generates smoke that accumulates on snow-capped peaks, altering the local temperature and speeding the melting of the glaciers.  Also, intense mining in the Andes generates dust and other particulate matter that is transported by wind to the glaciers, contributing to their reduction.

 

The solution to global warming is to cut emissions to the atmosphere, especially in industrialized countries.  In reality this is difficult due to the lack of political will to enforce emission limits. At the local level, many local initiatives can be implemented to combat global warming.  One of these is reforestation in mountainous areas adjacent to glaciers.

 Peace Corps/Peru, through the Community-Based Environmental Management program is promoting reforestation with various native plants in the mountainous communities where Volunteers work.  Reforestation not only contributes directly to combating global warming, but also to the prevention of soil erosion, to the maintenance of hydrological processes, and to the conservation of biological diversity by maintaining habitat for wildlife.  A fundamental component to ensure success in this process is the implementation of trainings and environmental education with the local population so that they consider themselves stakeholders – managing and conserving forests.