Credit: Conscious Design
Home to Earth’s largest tropical forest, the two million square mile large Amazonia, has long been considered the most important carbon sink, a reservoir, natural or otherwise, that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. But a recent study from the journal, Nature, has found that the Amazon’s carbon sink is in decline due to factors like deforestation and climate change.
“Amazonia plays a huge role in carbon sequestration, but the most important thing the forest does is store carbon,” notes Marcio Sztutman, Palladium’s Brazil Nature Based Solutions Director. “It’s stored in the trees and the brush and deforestation releases all of that carbon into the atmosphere.”
According to the report, and the nearly decade-long research project it draws from, the intensification of the dry season and an increase in deforestation appears to promote ecosystem stress, an increase in fires, and higher carbon emissions in the eastern Amazon. Most of the emissions are caused by fires, many of which are deliberately set in order to clear land for both beef production in the area. Of the 17 percent of forest reduction in the Amazon over the past 50 years, 14 percent of the loss is from the agriculture industry, which is largely exported out of Brazil.
Considered to be the main drivers of global warming, reducing carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses has long been touted as one of the most important means of slowing climate change. Be it through nature-based solutions, lifestyle changes, or technological advances that actually remove or offset carbon from the atmosphere, many scientists are calling for a move to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
The continued loss of forests, particularly those in the Amazon, has the potential to set off a deadly and dangerous cycle. The trees in the Amazon Rainforest produce most of the region’s rain, less trees mean less rain, and less rain can make for severe droughts, heatwaves, and in turn more forest fires and loss of trees. This affects not only Brazil, but nearby Argentina and dense agricultural areas that rely on the rain levels. “We’re running out of time,” adds Sztutman.
This negative feedback loop indicates that there’s a need for even greater urgency in addressing the degradation of the forests but to do so, he notes, will require acting as a society as a whole.
The Danger of Losing the Amazon Rainforest
Amazonia is home to a fourth of the world’s biodiversity and excluding the world’s lakes and ice caps, the Amazon’s rivers accounts for a third of the fresh water on the planet, but beyond biodiversity, Sztutman adds that it’s also home to vast sociocultural diversity. There are over 350 tribes of people living in the Amazon – many of them without direct contact with modern society - and their culture and livelihoods are put directly at risk by continued deforestation.
“Deforestation may generate short term wealth for few through a quick economic boom, but it will certainly be followed by a rapid depletion of natural resources and end up generating poverty for the local, most vulnerable population,” notes Sztutman.
But this doesn’t have to be the case.
According to Sztutman there are ways of alternatively producing food in the Amazon, for instance moderate cattle intensification, where herds are raised in reduced areas and in a way that instead of producing carbon, it sequesters it, while producing an even more profitable amount of cattle. Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of beef, soy and other agriculture goods, needs to safely maintain the region for food production, because without Brazilian products, there’s a risk of destabilising global food security.
And while Brazil’s 1965 Forest Code - updated in 2012 - requiring landowners in the Amazon to maintain up to 80 percent of their property as natural forests, was enacted with the right intentions, it’s been historically difficult to implement and monitor. Sztutman chalks it up to needing and lacking the right incentives for landowners to follow the code, “The deforestation that we’re seeing is in part because there’s not enough incentives to follow it. If it was properly followed, it would produce a huge chunk of the solution to saving the Amazon.”
There are options for protecting and restoring rural landscapes, whether they’re remote forests or completely degraded, says Sztutman. From working with forest management, to moderating cattle herds, and creating regenerative businesses that reverse degradation and sequester carbon, all land can be utilised to slow the effects of climate change and restore the forests – while generating cash flow and attracting investors
“Through our work at Palladium, we are promoting the development of numerous businesses that can help reverse the effects, while at the same time protect and restore forests. We’re working with governments that have committed to the Paris Agreement and corporations that have made public commitments to improve their supply chain management or offset emissions,” Sztutman notes that
“It is possible to preserve and restore the Amazon, while at the same time generate wealth that is well-distributed and benefits local communities,” adds Sztutman. There’s still time to change the trend of climate change and the negative effects on the Amazon rainforest, but it will require a lift from the private sector and the public sector working together.
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