Brazil’s Amazon forests have emitted about 20 percent more carbon dioxide than they stored in the atmosphere over the past decade, according to a new study that shows that humanity can no longer rely on the world’s largest tropical forest to stop carbon pollution. Scientists have warned that degradation in the “lungs of the world” will have devastating consequences not only for the region that hosts a significant percentage of the world’s wildlife, but also globally.
A new study by the National Agronomic Institute of France (INRA) looked at the volume of carbon dioxide absorbed and stored by the forest versus the amounts released back into the atmosphere when Amazonian forests were burned or destroyed.
In the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, scientists reported that from 2010 to 2019, Brazil’s Amazon basin produced 16.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide and absorbed only 13.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
Jean-Pierre Wigneron, one of the authors of the study, said, “We had previously estimated to be half that amount, but it is the first time we have figures that show that the Amazonian forests are now a net emitter of carbon. We do not know at what point the change could become irreversible.”
However, the research showed that fires in the Amazon increased nearly four times in 2019 compared to the previous two years, increasing from about 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) to 3.9 million hectares (9.6 million acres).
In a statement made by INRA, it was stated that “Brazil experienced a major failure in the implementation of environmental protection policies after the government change in 2019.” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 2019. it caused widespread international condemnation.
The far-right leader promoted agriculture and mining in the Amazon and reclaimed environmental legislation. Then, last year deforestation in the Amazon reached its highest level in 12 years. Activists and indigenous groups argue that environmental conservation efforts are not sufficiently funded and that there is no penalty for illegal logging and mining in protected areas.
On the other hand, terrestrial ecosystems have become a crucial ally as the world struggles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from over 40 billion tons in 2019. Plants and soil have consistently absorbed about 30 percent of these emissions, although emissions have increased by 50 percent in the past half century. Oceans also absorbed 20 percent of total emissions.
The Amazon basin contains about half of the world’s tropical rainforests and has far more efficient biological resources to store carbon than other regions. However, scientists are concerned that the region has become a net source rather than a carbon dioxide “sink”.
On the other hand, the data studied in the study only cover Brazil, which holds about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest. “The entire Amazon basin is probably carbon neutral. However, in other countries where Amazon rainforests are found, deforestation is increasing and drought has become more intense,” said Wigneron, taking into account the rest of the region.
On the other hand, other recent research has indicated that climate change in the Amazonian forests has emerged as a serious threat and that a dry savannah vegetation may replace rainforests in an area above a certain threshold of global warming. The researchers warned that this would have devastating consequences not only for the region that hosts a significant percentage of wildlife on Earth, but also globally.