There is no time to spare to save the Amazon from destruction, researchers and campaigners have warned as president Jair Bolsonaro plans to end more environmental protections and studies show that the rainforest is rapidly losing its ability to store carbon.
The warning comes after analysis this week showed that over a quarter of the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon than it absorbs. Research from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) found that deforestation in parts of the Amazon has decreased or eliminated the rainforest’s function as a “carbon sink.”
“Almost 20% of the Amazon forest is already deforested and this is the time to reverse the trend of destruction to avoid even more disastrous consequences,” Brenda Brito, a researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (Imazon), told The Independent.
Anna Jones, Greenpeace UK head of forests, said: “President Bolsonaro has consistently rolled back forest protection in favour of expanding intensive agriculture since taking office. He has also actively encouraged land-grabbing and violence against indigenous people, our greatest forest guardians, with some groups facing total extinction as their land is invaded and destroyed.”
Mark Wright, director of science at WWF UK, said: “Some scientists estimate that if we lose another 5% of the Amazon, it will trigger an irreversible ‘tipping point’.”
“Passing this tipping point could inhibit the Amazon’s ability to recycle water. This would transform large parts of it from a resilient, moist rainforest into a dry, degraded savannah, which could lock in dangerous climate change worldwide as carbon is released,” he said.
“Deforestation and rapid local warming in the Amazon mean a reduction in its ability to store carbon is not some far-off threat – this is happening now. If we lose the Amazon, we lose the fight against climate change.”
Professor Carlos Nobre, co-author of this week#s Amazon carbon sink study and a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies, described his findings as “very worrying” and said they “could be showing the beginnings of a major tipping point.”
Under Bolsonaro, deforestation of the Amazon is at a 12-year high, according to INPE.
More than 10,000 species of plants and animals are at high risk of extinction due to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, according to a study published by theScience Panel for the Amazonon Wednesday.
Cutting deforestation to zero in less than a decade is “critical”, scientists warned, calling for urgent restoration of destroyed areas.
Compared to its original size, 18% of the Amazon has already been destroyed and a further 17% has been degraded, according to the report.
During a virtual presentation of the findings, University of Brasilia professor Mercedes Bustamante said there is a “narrow window of opportunity to change this trajectory.”
“The fate of Amazon is central to the solution to the global crises,” Bustamante said.
There are concerns that in upcoming months Brazil’s congress will approve laws that will lead to even more deforestation, Brito.
On Wednesday, Brazilian lawmakers were due to vote on a controversial bill which extends amnesty to Amazon invaders by offering them land rights. Nearly 19 million hectares of land in the Amazon are designated federal public forests and would be impacted by this law, according to the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM). The vote was postponed following last minute amendments and international pressure.
If passed at a later date, the law may legalise and incentivise deforestation by recognising the land rights of Amazon invaders, said Brito.
Global companies, including Nando’s, Woolworths, Aldi and Burger King, had threatened to boycott Brazil if the law was passed. In an open letter they wrote: “If this or other measures that undermine these existing protections become law, we will have no choice but to reconsider our support and use of the Brazilian agricultural commodity supply chain.”
In recent months Brazil has also approved a bill, PL 490, which will end indigenous people’s right to be consulted on how their land is used by non-indigenous people. Campaigners have warned that the mining and agriculture industries unrestricted access to indigenous land.
“As many scientific studies have demonstrated, recognising indigenous people’s land rights is one of the best ways to protect forest resources,” said Brito.
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