Record high deforestation in the Amazon is causing extreme levels of greenhouse gas emissions, putting a dent in the world’s efforts to curb climate change. The Brazilian Space Agency reported on Friday that deforestation of the Amazon hit a new record during the first half of 2022.
Satellite images are showing that more than 3,980 square kilometers were cleared in the first six months of the year – an area five times the size of New York City. The deforested land was also the highest figure going back to at least 2016.
The data points out that fire activity also increased. June this year was the highest in 15 years from farmers burning forest vegetation to clear land for crops and livestock.
Additionally, when trees are cut to leave land for agriculture, gold mining, or other activities, vast quantities of dry leaves, grass, branches, and other organic material is left in the soil, which makes it the perfect fuel for fires when the weather turns drier and temperatures rise.
As the Amazon is the largest natural carbon sink on Earth, those extreme rates of deforestation represent a deep concern when it comes to protecting the planet’s balance. When Amazonian trees are cut and mostly burned for energy, the emissions they have been absorbing throughout their life gets released back into the atmosphere.
Therefore, decades of persistent and large-scale deforestation have converted the Amazon into a carbon source. According to a study published in Nature in 2021, the forest emits around one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to one-fifth of the US annual emissions.
Some scientists are now concerned that the forest may have reached a tipping point where damages done by deforestation are changing the ecosystem irreversibly. The Amazon could lose between 20%- 25% of its forest within a decade, which would turn it into degraded open savanna, and endangered biodiversity, which would shift regional weather patterns and accelerate climate change.
“We are entering the tipping point range predicted by scientists… Now each additional number of deforestation in the Amazon pushes us deeper into this irreversible scenario,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the advocacy network Climate Observatory.
Reasons For Deforestation And Solution
One of the reasons for this unprecedented deforestation is the policy under the current president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. He is often described as ‘the world’s most dangerous climate denier’. He has been allowing forest clearing, reducing budgets for law enforcement, and forgiving fines for illegal deforestation.
Before Bolsonaro, deforestation was an average of 6,500 square kilometers per year from 2012 to 2018. After he took office, rates doubled to as high as 13,000 square kilometers per year.
A potential solution to this urgent problem might come at Brazil’s 2022 general elections in October. If voters choose leftist Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is running for election against Bolsonaro, there might be an end to illegal deforestation in the Amazon.
Lula announced intentions to appoint a special climate envoy to help rebuild the country’s environmental authority abroad while working on policies to restore the world’s largest rainforest.
According to Brazilian policy analysis – Can Lula Save The Amazon?, the re-election of Bolsonaro would mean deforestation might not even end by 2030 but rather it would accelerate and his pending legislation would make matters much worse.
“If we have four more years of the Bolsonaro administration, it will be a government leading us to the collapse of the forest… I say it openly, in the October election, the Brazilians will have to make a choice, either Bolsonaro or the forest…,” said Mr. Astrini.
The Amazon is one of the most precious natural riches that also sequesters large amounts of CO2 emissions. It is home to more than 40,000 plants and over 4,000 animal species, thousands of birds, and mammals, not to mention over 1,300 medicinal plants treating all kinds of diseases. Its protection is a main priority of our generation, so rigorous climate actions need to be taken now to prevent any irreversible losses.