The wildfires in the Amazon Basin, the world's largest tropical rainforest, are the latest and most devastating example of what the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned about in a special report on land use and climate change issued this month. It is that destructive agricultural practices, coupled with spiralling demand for food and lax environmental policies - where economic development policies trump environmental protection - are not only destroying nature, but also accelerating climate change and threatening long-term food security. The global demand for beef and soya beans for China and other major markets, for instance, are major drivers behind the land clearing and fires in Brazil and elsewhere in the Amazon Basin. The destruction of forests, grasslands and mangroves globally negates their ability to soak up carbon dioxide and help keep temperatures from rising. These natural systems serve as a brake on climate change.
Destroying them only accelerates global warming. It is alarming that more than 26,000 forest fires - and counting - have been recorded in the Amazon so far in August, the highest number in a decade. Worried, the Group of Seven industrialised nations has offered assistance. But concerns are not just over the destruction of the Amazon and other key ecosystems in South America. Developments in Indonesia have been just as troubling for some time, although the government there has been more proactive in its efforts to stem the deforestation tide. Indonesia has the third-largest expanse of tropical rainforest globally after the Amazon and areas in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It faces similar pressures over the cultivation of oil palm, rubber, pulpwood and other commodities.