Fate of the rainforest is 'irreversible'

A third of the Amazonian 'carbon sink' is doomed whether or not emissions are cut, Copenhagen conference is told

A A A

The impact of climate change on the Amazon rainforest could be much worse than previously predicted, new research suggests.

Even if emissions were reduced and governments managed to limit temperature rises to 2C – the current aim of international climate policy – between 20 and 40 per cent of the forest could die because of warming, a British scientist told a conference on climate change in Copenhagen yesterday.

Dr Chris Jones, of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, said the Amazon may become "committed" to substantial change by rising temperatures long before any such change is apparent elsewhere.

The effect would be caused by the inertia of the Amazon's ecosystem – a phenomenon by which changes take a long time to work through the system to their fullest. This is already known to occur in the oceans, which is why sea level rise is expected to continue for centuries after any stabilisation of global warming.

The discovery that ecosystems can also be committed to large-scale changes means the danger to the natural world from the warming atmosphere may have been underestimated.

A 40 per cent loss of the Amazon rainforest, as well as being a disaster for wildlife and the people of the region, would make climate change worse because it would damage the region's ability to act as a carbon "sink", soaking up the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.

The loss would be in addition to the losses presently caused by deforestation.

Dr Jones said: "Ecosystems do exhibit significant commitment to further change even after you've stabilised the climate. The Amazon forest will be committed to large-scale loss long before any is observable in the real world, so some kind of monitoring system to detect the first signs of Amazon dieback might actually be too late. We need to understand the processes responsible before that."

The computer model used to forecast forest losses showed that commitment to change came in at a temperature rise of about 1 C above the level existing before the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

Currently, global temperatures are about 0.75C above the pre-industrial level. However, scientists believe that large amounts of carbon dioxide emitted in recent years have caused further warming of about 0.6C – meaning that the world is likely to warm at least 1.3C, even if all carbon emissions were stopped immediately.

Asked if this meant Amazon dieback had already started, Dr Jones responded that it probably had. At 1.3C, the commitment to change is not great, but by C it rapidly leaps up to 20 and then 40 per cent loss of forest. At 3C – where the computer simulation shows no dieback might yet be visible – the commitment is a 70 per cent loss of the forest.

Dr Jones said these changes could be reversible only over very long time scales – perhaps hundreds of years. "On any kind of pragmatic time scale, I think we should see loss of the Amazon forest as irreversible," he added.

Despite the long-term term threat of Amazon forest dieback, Vicky Pope, the Hadley Centre's head of climate advice, said it was still important to try to continue to stop deforestation because it was leading to as much emissions being pumped into the atmosphere as the world's transport sector.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam