WASHINGTON - More than one third of the Amazon rainforest may have been degraded by human activity and drought, researchers said on Thursday, and urgent action is needed to protect the critically important ecosystem.
In a study published in the journal Science, the researchers said the damage done to the forest, which spans nine countries, is significantly greater than previously known.
For the study, they examined the impact of fire, logging, drought and changes to habitat along the forest borders – what they called edge effects.
Most previous research into the Amazon ecosystem has focused on the consequences of deforestation.
The study found that fire, timber extraction and edge effects have degraded at least 5.5 per cent of all remaining Amazonian forests, or 364,748 square kilometres, between 2001 and 2018.
But when the effects of drought are factored in, the degraded area increases to 2.5 million sq km, or 38 per cent of the remaining Amazonian forests.
“Extreme droughts have become increasingly frequent in the Amazon as land-use change and human-induced climate change progress, affecting tree mortality, fire incidence, and carbon emissions to the atmosphere,” the researchers said.
“Forest fires intensify during drought years,” they said, warning of the dangers of “much larger megafires” in the future.
The researchers from Brazil’s Universidade Estadual de Campinas and other institutions used satellite images and other data from 2001 to 2018 to reach their conclusions.
In a separate study published in Science of the human impacts on the Amazon, researchers from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and elsewhere called for action.
“The Amazon is perched to transition rapidly from a largely natural to degraded and transformed landscape, under the combined pressures of regional deforestation and global climate change,” they said.
“The changes are happening much too rapidly for Amazonian species, peoples, and ecosystems to respond adaptively,” they said. “Policies to prevent the worst outcomes are known and must be enacted immediately.
“To fail the Amazon is to fail the biosphere, and we fail to act at our peril,” they said.
Brazil’s new president, leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has pledged to end deforestation of the Amazon by 2030.
On Thursday, Brazilian environmental agents cut through the rainforest with machetes in search of criminals in the first anti-deforestation raids under President Lula.
Reuters exclusively accompanied raids led by environmental agency Ibama in the rainforest state of Para to stop loggers and ranchers illegally clearing the forest.
The agency also launched raids this week in the states of Roraima and Acre, Ibama environmental enforcement coordinator Tatiane Leite said.
About 10 Ibama agents set out in pickup trucks on Thursday from their base in the municipality of Uruara, Pará, along with a dozen federal police, heading toward a cluster of points where satellite images showed loggers and ranchers recently at work clearing the forest illegally.
An area larger than Denmark was deforested under Mr Bolsonaro, a 60 per cent increase from the prior four years.
Separately, President Lula on Thursday urged his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, to have France attend the summit of the Amazon countries that he aims to host in coming months.
Mr Lula discussed in a phone call with Mr Macron efforts to combat the threat posed by climate change, according to a statement from his office.
He talked about the importance of France attending a summit of the countries of the Amazon forest that Brazil plans to host in the next few month, as it is the only European country to share the biome, through its overseas territory of French Guiana.
Mr Macron has meanwhile asked Brazil to attend its own “One Forest Summit” that France and Gabon will host in early March, according to the Brazilian statement.
Later on Thursday, Mr Macron said after speaking with Mr Lula that he had reaffirmed his determination to take action “for the climate, biodiversity, our forests and against hunger.” AFP, REUTERS