Deforestation has plagued the Amazon rainforest for generations. Evidence suggests that the crisis is only deepening, whilst economic priorities consistently outvote desperate warnings of the rainforest’s demise.
Scientists and environmental experts have consistently sounded the alarm to the consequences that deforestation is having in the Amazon, cautioning that the “lungs of the earth” are on the brink of collapse. But indigenous Amazonians are now pushing back, using their voice to press the urgency of deforestation to major global players and attempting to turn the tide in the world’s largest and most vital ecosystem.
Over a million square kilometers of the Amazon has been destroyed since 1978, and data released last month by the Brazilian government shows that deforestation in the nation is showing no signs of slowing down as it surpassed 10,000 square kilometers for the third straight year- rates that simply cannot continue.
Representatives from the Amazon Basin have urged world leaders to back bold new deforestation reduction targets at the World Conservation Congress this month, attempting to implement measures to protect 80% of the Amazon basin by 2025.
The Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA), which advocates for the rights of 511 indigenous nationalities and groups that live in the Amazon basin, presented its “Amazonia80x2025” campaign during the summit hosted by the International Union for Conservation in Nature.
The congress convenes thousands of diplomats, scientists and government officials to a nine day summit that began on September 5, and intends to lay the foundations for United Nations biodiversity negotiations to be held in China next year.
The indigenous leaders hope that gaining support at the World Conservation Congress will place their platform at the forefront of the biodiversity talks.
It’s time Indigenous territories are respected by humanity.
— IUCN (@IUCN) September 7, 2021
The campaign’s objectives to meet its 80% deforestation reduction target include full legal recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands in the Amazon basin, an immediate moratorium on deforestation and industrial degradation of all primary forests, and ecological restoration for currently degraded lands.
The implementation of the protective efforts would counter the direction that deforestation has taken in the region — particularly since right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro assumed office in 2019. Whilst the Amazon was already suffering the effects of deforestation prior to Bolsonaro’s tenure, his presidency has allowed for increased mining, which now threatens 20% of Amazon’s indigenous lands, and agricultural practices in protected areas alongside direct weakening of environmental enforcement agencies.
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There are numerous indications that Bolsonaro is indifferent to the rainforest’s demise, not least when he labelled damning deforestation satellite data pruduced by his own government’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) as “lies” during his inaugural year in power — a year that Amazonian deforestation grew by 85%.
Deforestation rates are currently at a 12 year high in the Brazil, and, according to a study conducted this year by the INPE, the Amazon rainforest is for the first time ever emitting more carbon emissions into the atmosphere than it is able to absorb.
Perhaps the clearest sign that the Amazon’s future is threatened by economic priorities overstepping environmental necessity is the proposed construction of a railway in Brazil. First promoted in 2012 and recently pushed forwards by President Bolsonaro, plans are already underway to construct a $4 billion railway through the heart of the Amazon rainforest – intended to cut costs to Brazil’s agricultural sector.
According to research conducted by the Climate Policy Initiative, construction of the railway will result in up to 2,043 square ft (around 285,000 football fields) of deforestation, whilst construction projects will also be encouraged around the proposed railway line which will pass within 500 metres of 726 official environmentally protected areas.
The railway’s construction is also predicted to produce over 75 million tonnes of carbon emissions — a clear representation of the chasm that exists between the importance of drastic emissions cuts and actual climate action in the Amazon rainforest.
Amazon Under Threat Across the Continent
Whilst Brazil certainly serves as a clear example to the role that economic interests have played in the Amazon’s deterioration, it is not an anomaly.
Deforestation in Colombia rose by 8% last year, primarily due to the advancement of agricultural practices including cattle ranching alongside illegal mining and logging. This led to the deforestation of approximately 424,000 acres in 2020 — an area double the size of New York City (64% of which took place in Amazonian regions).
Other nations that have evidenced increased deforestation rates in their Amazon regions include Ecuador, where environmentalists have also condemned the government’s decision to open Yasuni National Park for oil drilling, and Bolivia, which has seen the second highest deforestation rate increase in the Amazon behind only Brazil.
We unite in calling for a global agreement for the permanent protection of 80 percent of the Amazon by 2025 as an urgent measure to avert an imminent tipping point and the planetary crisis, and to reach a transformative change. It is time for the international community (governments, civil society, businesses, etc.) to join us in our effort to protect the planet.
— Amazonia80x2025 campaign pledge
Whilst the indigenous campaign is certainly an ambitious one, the urgency of the situation in the Amazon cannot be understated, and numerous studies are showing that bold measures must be taken to avoid imminent catastrophe.
A landmark study released by the Science Panel for the Amazon (SPA) earlier this year found that, if deforestation continues at current rates, more than 8,000 endemic plants and 2,300 animals are at a high risk of rapid extinction.
The urgent message pushed by the SPA report is echoed in the “Amazonia80x2025” campaign, which warns that the naturally flourishing rainforest is at dire risk of drying out into a savanna unless drastic action is taken. The Amazon basin is home to over 20% of the world’s flowing freshwater and a third of global terrestrial plant life, however the indigenous initiative has stressed that at least 80% of its forests must remain intact if the ecosystem’s safety and fundamental role as a climate regulator is to be ensured.
Currently, over 18% of the Amazon basin has been deforested, with a further 17% significantly degraded — rates that bring the forest dangerously close to the point of no return.
According to the campaign’s website, scientists have warned that if deforestation and forest degradation points fall beyond the 20%-25% threshold, the Amazon will reach an “irreversible tipping point that can translate into the dieback of the entire ecosystem. This would result in massive carbon dioxide emissions with rapid and catastrophic consequences for global climate stability.”
The Amazon’s demise is one of the largest environmental crises of our time. Whilst it remains unclear whether the “Amazonia80x2025” initiative will be able to gain significant traction or suitably scare major global states enough to take necessary action, the repercussions are in no doubt.
We are in the critical stages of the global fight against climate change, but the wrong direction that the Amazon basin is taking gives us dire signs that the urgency of the climate crisis remains unheeded in some of the most crucial regions.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Aerial view of deforestation. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash