Climate change and deforestation ‘a vicious cycle’, says WWF

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Climate change and deforestation of the Amazon forest reinforce each other as global warming leads to forests being damaged by drought, reducing their capacity to absorb greenhouse gases and releasing billions of tons of extra C02 to the atmosphere, warns a WWF report.

“The point of no return may be closer than we think,” warns a WWF report about the changes underway in the world’s largest tropical forest in the Amazon. It argues that the changes “could lead to extensive conversion and degradation of the Amazon forests over the next 15-25 years”.

The report, published on 6 December 2007, studies the changes in the relationship between the Amazon and climate as a result of forest destruction and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It argues that the “current trends in agriculture and livestock expansion, fire, drought and logging could clear or severely damage 55% of the Amazon rainforest by 2030.” 

Furthermore, it states that if rainfall declines 10% in the future, as predicted by climate change scientists, “then an additional 4% of the forests will be damaged by drought”. This is why the report refers to the Amazon and climate relationship as “a vicious cycle of climate change and deforestation“. 

It argues that the growing world demand for soybeans, biofuel and meat are speeding up deforestation in the Amazon as farmers and ranchers convert their forest reserves to agriculture and pasture in a drive for increased profitability. 

However, “there is still time to lower the risk of widespread Amazon forest degradation and the acceleration of global warming that it would stimulate,” states WWF, listing a series of actions that might end the vicious cycle. 

These include, in particular, protecting the forest from fire. If protected from fire, the rainfall functions of primary forests will stabilise within 15 years and “each year of fire-free recovery that goes by, the flammability of the forest declines and the amount of rain cloud forming vapour that is pumped into the atmosphere increases.”

Farmers and livestock producers and other land-owners will also need to change their behaviour and increase the legality and the socio-environmental performance of their farms, ranches and forest management. In particular, they should invest in fire prevention and turn towards “reduced impact” logging techniques, allowing selective timber harvesting with lower impact on the environment.

Furthermore, the report urges the implementation of existing land-use policies and programmes, which contribute to the creation of new forest reserves.

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