Amazon deforestation accelerating towards unrecoverable tipping point

26 July 2019 | Mitigation

Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has surged above three football fields a minute, according to the latest government data, pushing the world’s biggest rainforest closer to a tipping point beyond which it cannot recover.

The sharp rise – following year-on-year increases in May and June – confirms fears that government has given a green light to illegal land invasion, logging and burning.

Clearance so far in July has hit 1,345 sq km, a third higher than the previous monthly record under the current monitoring system by the Deter B satellite system, which started in 2015.

With five days remaining, this is on course to be the first month for several years in which Brazil loses an area of forest bigger than Greater London.

The steady erosion of tree cover weakens the role of the rainforest in stabilising the global climate. Scientists warn that the forest is in growing danger of degrading into a savannah, after which its capacity to absorb carbon will be severely diminished, with consequences for the rest of the planet.

“It’s very important to keep repeating these concerns. There are a number of tipping points which are not far away,” said Philip Fearnside, a professor at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research. “We can’t see exactly where they are, but we know they are very close. It means we have to do things right away. Unfortunately that is not what is happening. There are people denying we even have a problem.”

It may also complicate ratification of Brazil’s biggest ever trade deal with the European Union if EU legislators decide the South American nation is not keeping its side of the bargain, which includes a commitment to slow deforestation in line with the Paris climate agreement.

Earlier this month, it was reported that thousands of gold miners illegally invaded Yanomami indigenous territory near the border with Venezuela. Elsewhere, illegal loggers have mounted at least two attacks in response to Ibama enforcement operations, according to the Folha newspaper. On 4 July, they reportedly burned an Ibama truck in Espigão d’Oeste, Rondônia state and last week they were said to have burned bridges in Placas, Pará state.

Brazil is also going backwards fast. After an 80% reduction in the rate of deforestation between 2006 and 2012, successive governments have relaxed protections. Clearance has been creeping up. Last year, deforestation rose 13% to the highest level in a decade. This year is on course to be far worse and the trend is back towards the dark days of the early 2000s.

The Deter satellite data is considered preliminary, but it is usually a guide to the longer-term trends. More detailed annual figures are usually released towards the end of the year, after the National Institute for Space Research has calculated data from the more powerful Prodes satellite system.

Trees are considered essential to climate stability. Earlier this month, a study indicated that planting a trillion trees could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities. But scientists say maintaining existing forests, particularly in the tropics, is far more important.


Source: The Guardian