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Humans are killing nearly 40% of the remaining Amazon rainforest

Humans are killing nearly 40% of the remaining Amazon rainforest

More than a third of the increasingly vulnerable Amazon rainforest has been degraded by human activities, new scientific research has revealed.

Up to 38 per cent of forests were affected, an area 10 times the size of the UK.

Damage is caused by four key phenomena – fire, selective logging (including illegal), extreme drought and so-called

Degradation is defined as the long-term or short-term damage caused to forests by humans. This is different from deforestation, such as cutting down trees to change land use for agriculture.

The Amazon rainforest is a natural buffer of the climate crisis, absorbing huge amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide. However, when the dense forest is cleared and burned, it is dangerously close to tipping point where it will become a net carbon emitter, scientists warn.

A new study, conducted by an international team of scientists, analyzed data on the Amazon between 2001 and 2018. They found that the level of degradation was much greater than previously thought and resulted in emissions equivalent to or greater than logging.

The team found that by 2050, degradation will still be the main source of emissions, whether deforestation is halted or reversed.

A new study involving some of Brazil’s leading scientific institutions further complicates the urgency of saving the Amazon.

Brazil’s new president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, commonly known as Lula, announced plans to end illegal deforestation of the rainforest during his inauguration on New Year’s Day. One of his first acts as president was to reinstate Amazon’s Rainforest Sustainability Fund.

He also appointed several key cabinet members to bolster his mission. Longtime ecologist Marina Silva from the Amazon state of Acre has been appointed environment minister. She held this position when Lula was previously the leader of Brazil and contributed to a huge decrease in deforestation.

How land degradation affects the Amazon rainforest

(Alex Argozino/Studio Argozino/Science Magazine)

Sônia Guajajara, the leader of the main group of many indigenous tribes in Brazil, made history as the first head of the new Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.

Most of Brazil’s indigenous territories are in the Amazon, and the communities are the protectors of the forest and its rich biodiversity. They were killed in increasing numbers during raids on their lands for illegal logging, farming and mining.

The study noted that the degradation of the Amazon not only has consequences for the climate crisis and species loss, but also affects communities.

“Few people benefit from degradation processes, but many lose out in all dimensions of human well-being – including health, nutrition and attachment to the forest landscapes they live in,” said Dr Rachel Carmenta, co-author at the University of East Anglia.

The research team called for better monitoring of the Amazon using a combination of technologies and sensors, and tightening restrictions on logging and burning.


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