Guatemala’s climate has changed significantly. A comparison of climate variables averaged over the 2001–2019 period versus their averages over the 1973–2000 period showed that  mean annual temperature has increased by about 0.8ºC. The largest increases (> 2 ºC) in mean annual temperature have occurred in the Northern Transversal Strip, Western, and Northern regions. Additionally, heat waves have become more intense, more extensive, and longer, particularly during El Niño events.
Mean annual precipitation has increased by 122 mm countrywide. The largest increases (over 200 mm) have occurred mainly in the northern, Boca Costa, and Pacific slope regions, and moderate increases (50–200 mm) have been recorded in the Western, Eastern Valleys, and Central Plateau regions. Rainfall patterns have changed towards more intense rains concentrated in fewer rainy days.
Through the century, Guatemala’s climate is projected to change further. Mean annual temperature is projected to increase by 0.75- 2ºC by 2050. Temperature will increase throughout the country, but somewhat more drastically in the Northern, Caribbean, and Pacific slope regions. Annual precipitation is projected to decrease by 500- 675 mm by 2050, but with substantial differences between regions. The largest reductions (> 1,500 mm) will occur in the Northern and Caribbean regions; moderate reductions (500- 1,000 mm) in the Central Plateau, Western, and Eastern Valleys regions; and even modest increases in small areas of the Western, and Northern Transversal Strip. Sea surface temperature is projected to increase by 1.5 ºC and sea level to rise by 100 mm by 2050.
The National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation  identified forests, ecosystems, and protected areas; coastal zones; water resources; agriculture and food security; infrastructure; and health as the sectors most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change , , .
Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns are projected to change ecological conditions in 60–90% of the country, thereby altering the distribution of ecosystems and their associated flora and fauna. Projected changes include the expansion of conditions suitable for the existence of dry and very dry ecosystems from their present 20% coverage, to perhaps 40% (by 2050) or even 70% (by 2080) of the country’s area at the expense of conditions suitable for the existence of humid, very humid, and pluvial forests, which currently cover almost 80% of the country. Critical areas of change include the central part of the Petén department; the Northern Traversal Strip; the Motagua, Cuilco, and Selegua watersheds; as well as major mountain ranges.
Projected increases in tropical cyclones and extreme weather events brought on by La Niña events, along with sea-level rise and increases in sea surface temperature and acidification will exacerbate costal erosion and saline intrusion, and adversely affect coastal fisheries and ecosystems; villages, ports, tourism, and other infrastructure; and the livelihoods and food security of coastal populations. Over 50% of the municipalities along the Pacific coast are highly exposed and vulnerable to such changes; most of the populations therein rely on artisanal fishing and subsistence agriculture. Coral reefs on the Caribbean coast are vulnerable to climate-related changes, as evidenced by the more frequent and damaging coral bleaching events recorded in recent years.
Reduced precipitation and increased temperature will reduce water availability. Water availability is projected to decrease by 26% countrywide by 2050 (with respect to 2015 levels), with significant differences between regions: a 31% reduction might occur in the Caribbean basin, 25% in the Gulf of Mexico basin, and 19% in the Pacific basin.
Reduced water availability combined with the growth of the population and economic activities could drastically reduce per capita water availability. By 2050, some 64% of the country’s population is projected to have less than 1,700 m³ of water available per year, thus living under water stress conditions; some 44.8% will have less than 500m³ of water available annually (chronic water scarcity). Due to their large populations, the sub-watersheds most severely affected will be those in the dry corridor, as well as some sub-watersheds on the Pacific basin. More intense/prolonged droughts will exacerbate water scarcity. Some 3.5 million people reside in areas already prone to droughts; about half of them are indigenous communities for which subsistence rain-fed agriculture is the main livelihood .
Protracted droughts, particularly those associated with El Niño events, will also cause significant drops (up to 34%) in hydroelectricity generation, while periods of extreme rainfall affect the operation of hydroelectric plants .
Sharp declines in the yield of staple grains are projected by the end of the century across Central America. Maize, beans, and rice yields might decrease by 11%/9%/19% respectively by 2050. Coffee yield could be reduced by 12% and 36% by 2050 and 2100, respectively. Staple grain crops predominate in the drought-prone Eastern Valleys region. Maize, coffee, sugar cane, rubber, and sesame are grown in the Boca Costa and Pacific slope regions, which are highly exposed to floods and landslides. The incidence or aggressivity of crop pests and diseases are expected to increase, as suggested by the coffee leaf rust outbreak that devastated coffee production across Central America in the last years. The distribution of agroecological zones in Guatemala is also expected to change as some crops will have to be relocated at higher elevations, others might no longer be viable, or some others might be expanded towards previously unsuitable areas.
Most (93% of farmers) of the agriculture carried out in the country is small-scale, rain-fed, low-input, subsistence farming that is highly vulnerable to climate change. The significant reduction in productivity and yields of staple crops would be detrimental to the livelihoods and food security of many rural households with side effects on health and the country’s economy , .
Climate change is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of Atlantic tropical storms, and El Niño/La Niña events will affect areas already prone to flooding and landslides, threatening human settlements and infrastructure. About 44% of the country (where some 10.3 million people reside) is exposed to flood risk. Floods are among the most destructive natural hazards, and one of the main threats to infrastructure. About 49% of the territory (where some 9.2 million people reside) is exposed to landslide risk. Urban areas, such as Guatemala City, are more susceptible to landslides than rural areas, as their poorly planned urbanization has favoured the occupation of risk-prone areas such as steep slopes, ravines, and riverbeds.
The frequency of respiratory infections and diarrheal illnesses might increase due to reduced water availability and hindered access to sanitation, the intensification of droughts and more frequent flooding events that enhance the potential for contamination of water sources. Additionally, the incidence and spread of tropical vector-transmitted diseases may increase. A shift of malaria cases towards northern locations has been documented in the last decades, and vector-borne diseases have been more prevalent in the warmer, wetter departments such as Escuintla, Peten, Santa Rosa, Suchitepequez, and Retalhuleu.
Guatemala has historically contributed very little to global warming, but its GHG emissions have increased rapidly over the last decade .
Total GHG emissions in 2016 were estimated at 59.23 Mt of CO2e (0.12% of global GHG emissions) and per capita emissions at 3.74 t of CO2e (compared to the average of 7.7 t of CO2e per person in the LAC region in 2012).
Total emissions tripled from 18.05 Mt CO2e in 1990 to 59.23 Mt of CO2e in 2016. The Land Use, Land-Use Change (LULUC) sector was the country's main emitter in 2016, contributing 51.9% of the country’s total emissions, mainly from the conversion of forested lands into pasture and crop lands. Emissions from the LULUC sector increased nine-fold since 1990 and, in fact, the sector has transitioned from being a net sink of GHG up to 2005 to being a net source since, at least, 2010. Emissions from this sector amounted to only 8.5 Mt of CO2e in 2005, while absorptions by the increase in forest biomass and secondary succession on abandoned crop fields amounted to 24.49 Mt of CO2e. Emissions increased to 30.7 Mt of CO2e in 2016, while absorptions reached only 28.37 Mt of CO2e.
Energy was the second largest emitter in 2016, contributing with 32.4% of total GHG emissions, mainly from fossil fuels consumption for transport and electricity generation. Emissions from the energy sector quadrupled from 1990 to 2016, mainly due to the increasing demand for electricity. Agriculture was the third largest emitter, contributing with 10.9% of total GHG emissions, mainly as methane from enteric fermentation and nitrous oxide from agricultural soils.
Guatemala’s geographical and physical circumstances, together with its social and economic conditions, make it one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts.
Key policies and governance approach
The Government of Guatemala ratified its adhesion to the UNFCCC in 1995 and ratified the Kyoto Protocol in 1999. In compliance to its obligations to the convention, Guatemala has submitted two national communications (2002 and 2016) and recently completed the third one . The first National Communication included an initial (as for 1990) National GHG Emissions Inventory; three further iterations of the GHG Emissions inventory (as for 1994, 2000, and 2005) were included in the Second National Communication. The Third National Communication  includes improved GHG emissions inventories as for 2010, 2014, and 2016, and describes progress made by the country on climate change adaptation and mitigation, MRV, and in building up the relevant regulatory and institutional framework. Guatemala ratified the Paris Agreement in 2017 and, honouring the agreement, submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution in 2015 .
Guatemala’s NDC pledged to unconditionally reduce its GHG emissions by 11.2% by 2030 relative to the business-as-usual (BAU) reference scenario. Conditioned to receiving due support from the international community, GHG emissions would be reduced by an additional 11.4%. Mitigation actions envisioned focus on the forests, agriculture, and transport sectors .
The country has been also building up a comprehensive policy and institutional framework to comply with the objectives of the UNFCCC, the 2030 Agenda, and its own national development goals, as stated in the National Development Plan to 2032 .
The 2009 National Climate Change Policy  provides the overall policy framework for reducing the country’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, strengthening its adaptation capacities, and mitigating GHG emissions.
The 2013 Climate Change Framework Act  is the principal instrument governing actions aimed to address climate change mitigation and adaptation and reducing vulnerability. The Act created instruments for promoting the use of clean energy sources and energy efficient technologies; incentivizing the voluntary reduction or capture of GHG emissions; regulating GHG emissions from the transport sector; and for establishing a registry of GHG sequestration or reduction projects. The Act also mandated the creation of a national fund for financing climate change projects.
An initial National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation was adopted in 2016, and an updated version in 2018 . The plan guides government agencies and sectoral authorities in implementing measures for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation measures focus on health; coastal areas; agriculture, livestock ranching, and food security; forests, ecosystems, and protected areas; infrastructure; and water resources. Mitigation measures focus on the energy, industrial, waste, agriculture sectors, and LULUC sectors.
Implementation of climate change-related policies is led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN). Other relevant government agencies such as the National Forestry Institute (INAB), the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP), and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MAGA) also have offices dedicated to deal with climate change issues. The 2013 Climate Change Framework Act  mandated the creation of the National Council for Climate Change, with the purpose of articulating and coordinating the efforts made by all the relevant government institutions, sectoral authorities, social organizations, and academia to address climate change.
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
As described in its recent Third National Communication to the UNFCCC , Guatemala has made significant progress in constructing the policy and institutional framework for addressing climate change issues and in implementing a number of adaptation and mitigation actions.
Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Although the 2013 framework Climate Change Act  set the regulatory framework for addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation and reducing vulnerability, regulatory instruments for its implementation are still to be developed.
Main progress in mitigation has been made in the energy and LULUCF sectors. Renewable power generation capacity increased from 55.3% in 2013 to 68.8% in 2019, thanks to the installation of new hydroelectric, biomass-based, wind, solar, and biogas power plants. Reforestation and forest restoration actions have been promoted, and agroforestry and forest management and protection systems have been implemented on 588,276 ha as of 2019. Annual deforestation rate has thus been reduced from 1.4% during the 1991–1993 period to 0.5% in 2010–2016. The national REDD+ Strategy was recently completed and results from its implementation are expected to be capitalized through the Emission Reduction Program.
Given the country’s elevated vulnerability to climate change impacts, adaptation measures are the top priority. Adaptation measures have been implemented in the agriculture, livestock ranching, and food security; infrastructure; health; and LULUCF sectors.
The country has mobilized domestic resources to meet adaptation and mitigation commitments and goals, but such funds are admittedly insufficient. The cost of implementing the set of measures envisioned in the National Action Plan for Climate Change 2018-2032  was estimated  at US$ 23.03 billion (US$16.33 billion for adaptation, US$ 6.70 billion for mitigation). Only about 28% of that cost might be funded with domestic public and private funds, leaving a gap of US$16.55 billion. Guatemala has received significant support from the international community to complement its domestic efforts but a significant amount of both technical and material resources are still needed to fully implement the National Action Plan.
Initiatives and Development Plans
Formulation of the National REDD Strategy  began in 2011. Six initial REDD+ activities have been identified: 1) enhancement of forest carbon storage, 2) conservation of natural forests; 3) incentives for small-holders, local communities, and indigenous peoples, 4) strengthening forest governance, 5) improved forest management, and 6) improving competitivity and compliance in forest product chains. Results from the implementation of the strategy are expected to be capitalized through the Emission Reduction Program.
The 2018 National Low-emissions Development Strategy  identified 43 measures that would reduce the country’s GHG emissions intensity without compromising its economic development. Measures identified encompass six major sectors: energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forests and other land uses, and solid and liquid wastes.
Mitigation and adaptation to climate change have been fully embodied (as its priority axis 4) into Guatemala’s National Development Plan K’atun 2032 .
Goals and Ambitions
Implementation of the National REDD+ Strategy’s Emission Reduction Programme would avoid the emission of 9.25 Mt of CO2e and sequester 1.77 Mt of CO2e over its first five years of implementation.
The National Energy Plan 2017-2032  aims at reducing the country’s GHG emissions by 29.2% by 2032, through the promotion of energy efficiency and saving measures, prioritizing the use of renewable energy sources in the electricity generation mix, replacing the use of fuelwood by modern energy sources, and other measures.
Successful implementation of the 2018 National Low-emissions Development Strategy  would avoid the emission of 2,454 Mt of CO2e over the 2019–2050 period, while generating economic benefits for approximately US$ 5.35 billion.
- Given the country’s small volume of GHG emissions, as opposed to its elevated vulnerability to climate change and climate-related hazards, adaptation should perhaps command higher priority than mitigation.
- Guatemala’s NDC and, especially its National Action Plan for Climate Change 2018-2032, have identified a number of well-articulated measures to address climate change adaptation. Domestic resources mobilized by the Government of Guatemala to implement such actions are barely sufficient to cover but a fraction of the total investment. A significant amount of both technical and material resources are still needed to properly implement the National Action Plan.
- Guatemala is one of the most food insecure countries in the LAC region and this might be one of the main forces that push many Guatemalans to immigrate to other countries, particularly the USA. Climate change will exacerbate some of the conditions (drought, floods, etc.) underlying food insecurity. Designing and implementing adaptation measures addressing these issues might yield significant environmental as well as socio-economic benefits.
- The country’s GHG emissions have increased very rapidly during the last decade and most of that increase has come from deforestation. Designing and effectively implementing mitigation measures for the LULUCF sector (e.g., the National REDD+ Strategy) would have significant co-benefits for forest protection and conservation of the country’s rich biodiversity.
 World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal. Retrieved October 2021
 CEPAL, NDF, BID, FAO, CGIAR/CCAFS, PROGRESAN, INCAP. 2018. Cambio climático y seguridad alimentaria y nutricional en Centroamérica y la República Dominicana: Propuestas metodológicas, LC/MEX/TS.2018/19, Ciudad de México.
 Bouroncle C, Imbach P, Läderach P, Rodríguez B, Medellín C, Fung E, Martínez-Rodríguez MR, Donatti CI. 2015. La agricultura de Guatemala y el cambio climático: ¿Dónde están las prioridades para la adaptación? Copenhague, Dinamarca: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
 Gobierno de Guatemala. 2013. Ley Marco para Regular la Reducción de la Vulnerabilidad, la Adaptación Obligatoria ante los Efectos del Cambio Climático y la Mitigación de Gases de Efecto Invernadero de Cambio Climático.
 Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo. 2018. El Financiamiento Climático en Guatemala: Descripción del Proceso y Costeo del Plan de Acción Nacional de Cambio Climático y Estimación de la Brecha Financiera. Iniciativa Financiera de Biodiversidad (BIOFIN) para Guatemala. CENDES. Guatemala. 55p.