LIMA, Peru — Global climate change threatens the complete disappearance of the Andes' tropical glaciers within the next 20 years, putting precious water, energy and food sources at risk, according to a World Bank report presented here Tuesday.
The study says glacial retreat has already reduced by 12 percent the water supply to Peru's dry coastline, home to 60 percent of the country's population.
"In Peru, (the glaciers) are melting very quickly. More than 20 percent of the glacial ice caps have disappeared since the 1970s," World Bank climate change specialist Walter Vergara told reporters in the capital, Lima.
The report says that in neighboring Bolivia, the Chacaltaya glacier has lost 82 percent of its surface area since 1982. Meanwhile the Ecuadorean capital of Quito could face increased water costs of up to $100 million annually in the next 10 years as rising temperatures deplete nearby glaciers, Vergara said.
The World Bank study on climate change in Latin America warns of three other major threats besides glacier disappearance: the destruction of coral reefs by warming oceans, which could cause the Caribbean basin's ecosystem to "collapse"; wetlands devastation in the Gulf of Mexico due to deforestation, pollution and land development; and the risk of reduced rainfall drying large swaths of the Amazon jungle.
Bank staffers said that if nothing is done to combat global climate change and reverse the trends, those threats could have profound social and economic effects.
Glacier retreat could devastate the supply of drinking water and agriculture in the Andean nations, they said, while also hurting hydroelectric power generation that makes up 50 percent of energy production in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
Pablo Fajnzylber, the World Bank's senior economist for the Latin American region, warned that agricultural production in South America as a whole will drop 12 to 50 percent by 2100 if new technologies and more resistant seeds are not introduced.
Fajnzylber acknowledged that reversing climate change has taken a back seat to the global financial meltdown, but said the crisis actually presents an opportunity for nations to encourage investment in renewable and efficient energy.
The Bank also announced Tuesday it has approved a $330 million loan to help Peru's newly created Environment Ministry regulate mining, fishing and transportation, and protect the country's forests and biodiversity.