Scientists warn that the Amazon rainforest could soon become a savannah as deforestation, droughts, fires and climate change continue to destroy the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
A new study says the Amazon rainforest is approaching a turning point in its decline that could drastically change the region. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, finds that the Amazon is losing its ability to recover from events such as drought and extreme weather.
“Deforestation and climate change are probably the main drivers of this decline,” study co-author Niklas Boers, a professor at the Technical University of Munich, said in a statement. Researchers say they found evidence of this decline in 75 percent of the Amazon.
“It’s worth remembering and reminding that if we reach a tipping point and decide to lose the Amazon rainforest, we also get a significant response to global climate change,” said Timothy Lenton, a scientist at the University of Exeter and co-author of the study.
The research team reviewed satellite data for three decades and looked for trees and other vegetation after extreme events. They found that the forest, which is essential for oxygen production and carbon storage, has lost its resilience over the past two decades.
Researchers say the forest is approaching a tipping point and a critical point, but its arrival date is unclear, as many factors can bring it closer or further away from that edge. At the same time, however, they warn that change can happen quickly when the threshold is exceeded.
“Once this ‘starts’, I think it will happen in a few decades,” said Chris Boulton, a scientist at the University of Exeter and lead author of the study.
“But all of these predictions are just predictions and predictions. When a turnaround occurs, many more unforeseen things can happen,” Lenton said.
Deforestation in the Amazon
The increase in interest in and study of the Amazon forest and the consequences of its deforestation occurred when a record rate of deforestation in the Amazon was recorded in Brazil in January. According to preliminary satellite data, deforestation in January amounted to more than 160 square miles, which is five times more than in the same period in 2021.
“The race to cut down the Amazon forest is starting,” said Britaldo Soares Filho, an environmental modeling researcher at Minas Gerais University. “People may be surprised that the shrinkage hasn’t increased even more.”
Deforestation has increased under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonar, who began loosening forest management regulations after taking office in 2019.
Livestock farming is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon, as Brazil is currently the largest exporter of beef in the world. In November last year, the EU took steps to ban beef imports linked to deforestation, but traceability is becoming increasingly difficult, especially from Brazil.
“We are proposing a pioneering initiative,” said European Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius. “EU action alone will not solve the problem. Even large markets such as the US and China need to clean up their supply chain and producers need to strengthen forest protection, but we are ready to help.”