Deforestation in the Amazon reaches a record in the first half of 2022
The world’s largest rainforest is one of the planet’s most important ‘carbon sinks’, absorbing huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in its vegetation. By removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the Amazon serves as a powerful counterweight to all the carbon released and slows the rate of global warming.
The Amazon also plays a key role in regulating regional weather patterns. Its trees release water into the atmosphere through their stems, leaves and flowers through a process called transpiration. The released water can form vast rivers in the sky and rain clouds, which can affect rainfall locally and possibly as far as Mexico and the United States.
But the forest has come under threat in recent decades as land is cleared and converted largely for cattle ranching and agriculture. Over the past five decades, the Amazon has lost about 17% of its forest.
Some scientists say that the Amazon could lose between 20 and 25% of its forest within a decade, which could alter the ecosystem irreversibly. The rainforest would be converted into degraded open savannah, endangering biodiversity, altering regional weather patterns and accelerating climate change.
“We are entering the range of tipping points predicted by scientists,” said Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of advocacy network Climate Observatory. “Now, each additional number of deforestation in the Amazon pushes us deeper into this irreversible scenario.”
Romulo Batista, spokesman for Greenpeace Brazil, said the peak so far in 2022 is worrying as deforestation is encroaching on new areas. Deforestation has spread and cleared more than 1,230 square kilometers in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, a six-year high for the region. The states of Pará and Mato Grosso saw 1,105 square kilometers and 845 square kilometers respectively.
“The way the increase in deforestation is concentrated on a new front in the southern Amazon is of particular concern,” Batista said in a statement. Release.
Deforestation rates have fluctuated over the past three decades, including at higher rates in the 1990s and early 2000s. In response, the Brazilian The government has actively sought to protect the Amazon, strengthening environmental agencies and discouraging the export of goods produced illegally from deforested land. The efforts paid off. From 2004 to 2012, the rate of deforestation fell by 80%.
But deforestation has seen an upward trend over the past three-and-a-half years under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has enacted policies supporting mining and ranching and untangled environmental protections. .
“Deforestation rates under Bolsonaro are double the average of the previous decade. That’s why they are so alarming,” Astrini said. He said that before Bolsonaro, deforestation increased by an average of 6,500 square kilometers per year from 2012 to 2018. After Bolsonaro took office, rates reached 13,000 square kilometers per year.
“It is clear that tackling deforestation is not a priority for the federal government,” said Ane Alencar, scientific director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute. “The priority seems to be the elections.”
Brazil’s environment ministry and the president’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the deforestation spike.
Brazilian voters will gather in October to elect a new president and a national congress. Alencar said deforestation can be worse in election years because people aren’t as afraid of being punished. Candidates may be less inclined to levy fines and ease inspections during campaigns.
The continued deforestation of the Amazon comes despite Bolsonaro’s pledge to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and make Brazil carbon neutral by 2050. Astrini said it was possible to end deforestation over the next decade. For example, agricultural productivity can be doubled on land already cleared, and some research shows that many existing pastures can support more livestock pasture than is supported.
“We know where these areas are, what needs to be done, where the deforestation is and how we can implement policies to avoid deforestation,” Astrini said. But he, Alencar and many others are skeptical that such action would happen under the current leadership.
“If we have another four years of Bolsonaro administration, it will be a government that leads us to the collapse of the forest,” Astrini said. “I say it openly, in the October elections, Brazilians will have to make a choice, either Bolsonaro or the forest. Both, for the next four years, will not exist. Only one will survive.
Until the election, however, Carlos Nobre of the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies said deforestation rates could continue to rise, depending on how people think the election might. unfold.
If they think Bolsonaro “won’t be re-elected, they could really try as much land grabbing as possible, assuming the next president” will be “very tough on law enforcement from January,” he said. declared Nobre.
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Sá Pessoa reported from São Paulo. Patel reported from Washington. Chris Mooney in Washington contributed to this report.