How climate change affects the Honduran economy

Honduras is only responsible for a tiny margin of global greenhouse gas emissions – 0.1 percent to be precise. Yet its economy will be destroyed by the impacts of climate change, Rebecca Bertram reports.

Graffiti in the streets of Tegucigalpa (Public Domain)


The fact that climate change poses a threat to global economic growth is not a new insight. As far back as 2007, Nicholas Stern in his team at the London School of Economics found that it could lead to a recession of 20 percent of global if the world did nothing about climate change. Of course, these economic effects are felt differently depending on a country’s geographic position and economic wealth.

It is therefore vital for countries such as Honduras whose economy depends heavily on agriculture to take a holistic approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Let’s take a look at the two most pressing climate change impacts in Honduras, which cost the country millions of dollars every year.

Water scarcity could cause food shortages, economic crisis

Severe water scarcity is perhaps the most acute threat. Although the country has abundant water resources, access to clean water remains a problem in many areas. Surface water accounts for 90 percent of the country’s total water supply, yet its quality is severely affected by high levels of deforestation and pollution from the agricultural and mining sectors. Just as so many other areas of the world, rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall levels cause droughts, reduce surface water and lower groundwater levels, especially in the so-called Dry Corridor in the southern part of the country.

As a result, the Honduran agricultural sector, which employs more than 40 percent of the total labor force, is already seeing considerable impacts. Anyone who has visited Central America will know how important major crops such as maize, beans and rice are for the daily diet. These depend on stable rainfall levels, but current projections indicate that increasing temperatures and reduced rainfall will directly cause decreasing harvest levels in maize by 12 percent and beans by 32 percent by the year 2050 compared with 2000 levels.

In addition, the country’s important coffee sector has already been significantly impacted by climate change in recent years, when changing rainfall patterns and higher temperatures reduced production by almost 25 percent. As these weather patterns become more frequent it will result in producers cultivating coffee at higher altitudes, and this change is likely to induce further land degradation and deforestation in previously uncultivated parts of the country.

Finally, climate change is putting an extra strain on already stressed ecosystems, such as forests. For example, a hotter climate resulted in a bark beetle outbreak in 2013, which has resulted in a quarter of all forests in Honduras being destroyed.

Reforestation is a way in which Honduras can help mitigate climate change. But this area leaves much room for improvement as the country maintains the highest rate of deforestation in all of Central America, a large part of which is illegal. In 2015, however, the country committed itself to the reforestation one million hectares by the year 2020 in exchange for US$314 million.

No strategy to address climate change in Honduras

And here lies the problem: although the Honduran economy is directly affected by climate change, the government has not yet realized that it requires a holistic approach if the country is to succeed in managing the economic risks posed by a changing climate.

Climate change cannot just be an issue that is taken care of by international donors and multilateral organizations, which support the country’s rather weak Environment Ministry in writing basic climate reports. As part of the Paris climate agreement, Honduras committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2030 compared to a business-as-usual scenario (for which there is still no definition). But this includes the caveat that this is if international donor conditions remained “favorable”. In short: we will reduce our emissions if you pay for it!

You may think that a country as poor as Honduras – it ranks in 108th place in global GDP – is right in looking for funds to support its climate mitigation and adaptation. I am not arguing that it is not. But I am saying that while it is not responsible in causing the rising temperatures, it is severely affected by the phenomenon and therefore should develop a strong and holistic policy on the issue to avoid economic losses that result in job losses, poverty and migration.

It is high time that the government understands that climate change impacts every aspect of Honduran life. Leaving the issue outside of serious government policy will put increased pressure on the government’s already weak capacity to address existing development issues, such as social and economic inequality, high levels of violence as well as low education levels.

 

 

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Rebecca Bertram

Rebecca Bertram works as a freelancer and consultant on energy and climate issues in Honduras. She used to work for the Heinrich Böll Foundation both as the Director for the Energy and Environment program in the Washington D.C. office and as the Senior Policy Advisor for European Energy Policy at the Foundation's Headquarters in Berlin. Before that, she worked on international energy issues both for the German Ministry of Environment and the German Foreign Ministry. She holds a Master's degree in International Affairs and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

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