Climate change and increased deforestation are a recipe for destruction of the Amazon

Climate change is drying out parts of the Amazon forest. Text reads Amazon on the brink: Climate change impacts.
Photo: NASA

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The Amazon and other tropical forests are sometimes characterized as the planet’s lungs, due to their ability to absorb massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen. Global climate change and deforestation have impaired those processes to such an extent that, if the Amazon were a person, it might be diagnosed with asthma.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are affecting the Amazon’s ability to absorb air pollutants, and deforestation compounds the problem. Scientists recently discovered that some heavily impacted areas of the forest now emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they can absorb.

Climate change and deforestation also are making the Amazon warmer and drier. That increases the risk and intensity of forest fires, further limiting the forest’s ability to offset climate change, according to the Amazon Assessment Report 2021. The landmark report was produced by a group of 200 scientists who comprise the Science Panel for the Amazon.

“Wherever we look, climate change and … land-use changes are already impacting the Amazonian ecosystems,” the Science Panel said in the report.

The Panel’s report said sweeping changes in land-use policies are needed to save the Amazon. It also offered a vision for sustainable development in the region. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is supporting dissemination of the report and dialogues with policymakers, the public and financial institutions that fund development in the Amazon.

Reducing deforestation in the Amazon and other tropical forests is the fastest and cheapest way to mitigate global emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide, according to the Science Panel. Their report added that it also is “essential to reduce fossil fuel burning, which is the leading cause of climate change.”

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