Thursday, March 15, 2012
By Graylyn Roose
Edited and produced by Taylor Pool
Along the edges of the Andes along the border with Chile, sit the fields that provide Argentina with much of its revenue. The fields of grapes that cover the dry, arid mountain ridges are grown to produce the wares of the fifth largest wine industry in the world and Argentina’s economy takes 1.4 percent of its GDP from its success.
Yet on the outskirts of South America there is another kind of mountain; glaciers that developed on the Andes range. Scientists and environmental activists are concerned about the effect that climate change might have on these ice caps, which could threaten the fragile conditions needed to sustain Argentina’s viniculture.
Marcos Daviano is a professor in the University of Buenos Aires’ School of Agronomy. His research, which has included reports for the United Nations Development Project, has dealt with the possible consequences of climate change for South America’s agricultural sector. Daviano said that climate change could have an impact on the quantity of the wine industry in Argentina’s mountainous regions.
“Not so much on the quality, but probably on the yield,” said Daviano, who noted that the wine industry has begun to develop a comprehensive plan to protect its industry, should climate change have a negative effect on production. “They do have a strategic plan, if you will. I don’t think they’ve refreshed it over the last few years. But they do have a plan.”
An article put out by the Pontificia Universidad Catolica Argentina, a university in Buenos Aires, asserted that the temperature and precipitation levels of the Chilean-Argentine wine regions have already changed. In “South American Viticulture, Wine Production and Climate Change,” the authors note that the region often experiences wide swings in climate and weather conditions, but predict that the average temperature of the region could rise as much as two degrees Celsius by 2050.
Daviano said he couldn’t comment with authority on concrete temperature numbers, but admitted that predictions regarding climate change suggest that global warming will cause more extreme conditions—exactly the kind of change that could make Argentina’s wine industry suffer.
“The predictions are that wet areas, due to climate change, will become wetter and dry regions will become dryer,” Daviano said.
He said that dryer summers with less precipitation could affect water availability.
“Access to freshwater could be an issue. All the wine establishments in Argentina rely on irrigation,” Daviano said. “When the ability of freshwater for people and animals starts to end, our culture is the first one that’s going to be affected by this.”
Furthermore, an increase in climate contributes to the gradual shrinking of the glaciers that surround South America. Although this would seem to create opportunities to provide irrigation for the wine industry, Daviano said that this is not the case. Rather, area viticulture depends on the seasonal ebb and flow of the melting patterns.
“Precipitation in the wine-growing areas usually comes from melted snow,” Daviano said.
Some say production is not at risk
Martin Cavagnaro is the coordinator for the Argentine Intersectoral Forum for Sustainable Viniculture (FIAVIS) a group that works to raise awareness about issues of sustainability and climate change as they relate to Argentina’s wine industry. He said the grapes need just the right amount of water to be right for wine production.
“On the vine, especially in an arid area such as the province of Mendoza, it is essential that the supply is adequate at certain stages of the cycle for quality crops,” said Cavagnaro, who explained that high levels of water could cause fungal diseases in the plants. Cavagnaro admitted that climate change is producing changes in the worldwide wine industry but said he thinks the negative changes will depend on how the effects are handled.
“Climate change is producing different responses in different wine crops worldwide…but my personal opinion is that activity is not at risk,” Cavagnaro said. “The degree of threat will result from the ability of each region to mitigate climate change impacts.”
Enrique Maurtua is the head of the Climate Change Department at Fundacion Biosfera, an environmental organization based in Argentina. He is also the Regional Coordinator for the Climate Action Network of Latin America and works on international and national climate change policy. He believes that if current policies do not change, the world will see an increase of four degrees in average world temperature by 2050.
Although concerned for the fate of the wine industry if subtle temperature increases occur, Maurtua says that agriculture is one small part of the ecosystem.
“If the climate is changing, the species can’t grow in this place anymore,” Maurtua said, explaining that the diversity of animals is vital to the life cycle of seeds. “You need that biological reserve to keep the seeds [going].”
He says it’s tough to apply climate change policy to the agricultural industry because climate shifts are so difficult to predict.
“It takes into account many data,” Maurtua said. “This does not mean you cannot do it. But climate change is complex because you need many variable factors.”
Daviano said that Argentina has made significant strides in the area of sustainability and the reduction of deforestation, but that the country has work to do in regards to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with cars mainly relying on fossil fuels. These factors have been attributed in the opinions of some experts to an increase in global temperature.
“Huge progress can be made over the next 50 years or so…but there’s very little that’s actually been done.”
However the landscape may change for the wine industry, Maurtua said that it is vital for the wine industry and individual wine producers to continue to collaborate to come up with ways to make their grape growth as productive as possible, in spite of the challenges that environmental change could cause.
“The most important thing is to keep working with them,” Maurtua said. “They do know the climate is changing and they want to keep sustaining their work.”