Environment and Climate Change in Panama
Home to vast tropical rainforests, an immense variety of animal and plant species and the seaway that connects the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Pacific Ocean, Panama relies heavily on all these resources for its economy. However, environmental challenges threaten the sustainability of these assets and therefore create a significant problem for the country. This paper will examine the effect of weather and climate change on Panama coupled with a specific focus on the Panama Canal. It concentrates largely on the effects of deforestation, coupled with the effect of El-Nino, and examines how this has had significant economic and social consequences.
Panama has a tropical maritime climate, which provides the country with a long, rainy season between May and January and a short, dry season between January and May. Average temperatures are usually high and humidity levels almost never drop below 80%. The country’s carbon emissions are not significant to account for a percentage of the world emissions and they have relatively stayed the same during the period 1995-2000.[i] Forest area stood at 38.6% on 2002, with nationally protected areas at 21.7% of total area.[ii]
In general, data has shown an increase in highly “unusual extreme weather events” since 1992 in the Latin America region and has predicted that these phenomena will become more frequent. These unusual events, coupled with local social and demographic factors, have created emergency conditions in Panama.
One of the most significant challenges to Panama’s environment today is deforestation. Forest area has decreased from 45.6% in 1995 to 38.6% in 2002, with a rate of deforestation at 1.65% in the year 2000. This latter number was higher than the Latin America & Caribbean average, which stood at 0.47%.[iii] The main reason for deforestation has been due to the clearing of forests in order to open up land area for agriculture and settlement in addition to an increasing level of industrial logging and mining activities.[iv]
Overall, tropical deforestation contributes to an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, expected to be between 29 and 129 ppm within 100 years globally.[v] In addition, deforestation results in a decrease in precipitation due to two reasons, as discussed by Laurance and Williamson.[vi] Forests produce water vapor through evapotranspiration, which contributes to rainfall. Secondly, smoke from forest fires can reduce rainfall and cloud cover can trap moisture, therefore inhibiting the formation of raindrops. The consequences of deforestation can be more severe if coupled with other conditions that contribute to a lack of precipitation. In Panama, deforestation was coupled with the warming effects of regional El-Nino phenomena, resulting in heavy droughts in the country. Especially during the extremely intense El-Nino...