Once a great carbon absorber, the Amazon rainforest now releases more carbon than it stores, accentuating the threat of a global climate crisis, a report has claimed.
Since 1988, Amazon has lost nearly 1 million sq km forest area in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Suriname, Colombia, Guyana, and the French Guyana. This is equivalent to losing 200,000 acres a day or40 football fields per minute, The Guardian reported.
Deforestation in Brazil, which is home to the greatest expanse of forest, rose to a 12-year high in 2020, according to data from the country's national space research agency INPE.
The rate of destruction of the forest decreased slightly between 2004 and 2012. However, it has soared by 92 percent since Jair Bolsonaro became the President of Brazil in January 2019, according to Time magazine. Bolsonaro, who has sacked key environmental officials and slashed enforcement, is believed to have allowed exploitation of the Amazon for businesses.
"Bolsonaro is a powerful supporter of agribusiness and is likely to favour profits over preservation," the Washington Post had reported before he won presidency.
Bolsonaro has unapologetically served notices to non-profit organisations like World Wildlife Fund and openly advocated against lands reserved for indigenous tribes.
In 2018, scientists had said that once the Amazon loses more than 25 percent of its cover, weather patterns would change and the entire ecosystem would become drier. Moreover, fragmentation of the forest would lead to ecosystem decay, meaning loss of species in the surrounding areas.
At this rate, Robert Walker, quantitative geographer in the University of Florida's Center for Latin American studies, predicted that Amazon would be wiped out from the face of the earth by 2064.
Home to 390 billion trees, the Amazon is 10 million years old and an unrivalled nest of biodiversity. Through the years, the region has witnessed deforestation on a vast scale for farmland, firewood and houses. In the 20th century, the vast mineral riches under the rainforest's soil, came under threat. With the advancement in infrastructure, wealthy tycoons built cattle ranches over vast fields of land in the region, reports suggest.
After Bolsonaro's arrival, the government called for more commercial farming and mining in the Amazon region with the hope to alleviate poverty. However, the move emboldened illegal ranchers, land grabbers and miners to clear the forest further.
The absence of trees already has a warming effect on the region, leading to a rise in number of droughts and floods. Further deforestation, wildfires and the impact of global temperature rises might soon push Amazon past its tipping point, Carlos Nobre and Thomas Lovejoy, leading authorities on the Amazon and climate change, told Time Magazine.
As per the current projections by the UN, the earth is heading for heating of up to 5°C by the end of this century. This would mean death to the forest. “If this process continues, it becomes irreversible,” said Nobre.
The Amazon rainforest stores up to 120 billion metric tons of carbon, which will all go to the atmosphere is the forest is cleared. This could trigger a cascade of other climate crises such as melting of the Greenland ice sheet, rising of sea levels, and degradation of frozen soil in the Arctic.
The only way to stop this is to spare the heart of the Amazon.