Deforestation reduces the forest’s ability to generate rain clouds, which significantly raises the odds of drought. And the more fragmented the forest is, the harder it is to bounce back after a drought ends. Over-harvesting and passing the forest’s tipping point would be devastating for the forest’s biodiversity and for the Indigenous people that live there. The forests of the Amazon area are home to more than 3 million species of plants and animals. They also store large amounts of carbon dioxide that, if the forests die, would be released back into the atmosphere.
This week, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Colombian President Gustavo Petro formed a “pact” earlier this month to try to save the Amazon “for humanity.”
- The first anti-deforestation raids on Lula’s watch took place last week to stop the illegal clearing of the forest.
- Earlier this month, Lula signed a series of executive orders to address illegal deforestation in Brazil, which is home to 60% of the Amazon forest and reactivated the Amazon Fund that invests in efforts to stop deforestation.
An estimated 13 to 17% of the original Amazon rainforest has been deforested over the last half-century.
In a paper published in the journal Science, an international team of scientists report humans are causing changes to the Amazonian ecosystem in a matter of decades or centuries, as opposed to millions to tens of millions of years for natural processes. “Organisms can’t adapt in the period of decades or centuries,” Albert says.
Another analysis looked at the problem of land degradation in the Amazon due to logging, fires, extreme droughts, and changes at the edges of the forest caused by the habitat being fragmented.
- Deforestation changes the land cover and can be spotted by satellites. Degradation stems from changes in how the land is used and can be hidden by the forest canopy — a forest continues to be a forest but is degraded and weakened.
- Using data from earlier studies and new satellite images, the authors estimate about 2.5 million square kilometers of the Amazon — about 38% of the remaining forest — is considered degraded by one or more disturbances. That’s in addition to deforestation.
- They also found the carbon lost from the forest due to degradation is on par with that due to deforestation — and degradation can lead to as much loss of the forest’s biodiversity as deforestation.
Their projections suggest “degradation will continue to be a major source of emissions in the region, regardless of what happens with deforestation,” says study co-author David Lapola, a research scientist at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) in Brazil. “We need specific policies to handle degradation. It’s not using the same policies and actions for deforestation,” he says.