URUGUAY is located in southern South America, making a small wedge between Argentina and Brazil. Most of the country is covered by rolling grasslands, though it is crossed by several river systems and has a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Uruguay has no mountain ranges to buffer it from weather systems, making it susceptible to rapid weather changes. Droughts and periodic flooding are common. Climate change is expected to have some initial benefits for the livestock industry, but its long-term effects are unclear. Current climate models predict that Uruguay will see temperature increases of 2 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) by 2050 and 3.4 degrees F (1.9 degrees C) by 2100. Some models also indicate that there will be increased precipitation in both the summer and winter seasons, although there is some disagreement in these models.
Most of Uruguay is covered with evergreen grasslands perfect for the raising of cattle and sheep, which is a major part of the national economy. The grasslands may at first benefit from increased tem peratures and higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2, but it is not clear at which point the positive becomes a negative.
Sea-level rise is a concern along the Atlantic coastline. The capital city of Montevideo, home to about 45 percent of the population, sits on the coast, and much of the country's industrial infrastructure is concentrated around Montevideo Bay. A 1997 study predicted a rise in sea level of between 1.6-3.2 ft. (0.5-1.0 m.) by 2100. This would destroy much of the high-value real estate along the coast and severely damage the sewage and water purification systems of the city.
Uruguay has a population of just 3.5 million people. It has low population density, relatively high per capita income, and a well-developed economy. It is not a significant contributor to global carbon emissions; in fact, it is one of only a handful of countries that is carbon neutral, removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as it releases. In 1998, CO2 emissions were about 1,800 metric tons per capita. Ninety-two percent of emissions come from liquid fuel use, and 8 percent from cement manufacture. Uruguay was one of the first countries to submit a greenhouse gas inventory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, of which it is a signatory, and it has made regular reports on its progress.
Uruguay's government has moved aggressively to institute sustainable practices since the 1980s. In 1982, it instituted a law on soil management that has led to the sequestration of 1.8 million metric tons of carbon annually for the past 20 years; the Forest Protection Act of 1987 has increased the size of forest plantations from 200 to 6,500 sq. km. (77 to 2,510 sq. mi.), and the country has had a cumulative net carbon sequestration of 27.4 million metric tons.
sEE ALsO: Atlantic Ocean; Carbon Dioxide; Climate Change, Effects; Drought; Floods; Global Warming.
bibliography. Mario Bidegain and Daniel Panario, "Climate Change Effects on Grasslands in Uruguay," Climate Research (v.9, 1997); "Development and Climate Change in Uruguay: Focus on Coastal Zones, Agriculture and Forestry," www.oecd.org/dataoecd/42/7/32427988.pdf (cited November 1, 2007).
Heather K. Michon Independent Scholar
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