According to a study by Brazilian scientists, the Amazon rainforest emits a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. According to experts, the giant forest absorbed emissions causing the climate crisis a few years ago, but now provokes its acceleration.
The study found that the Brazilian Amazon has emitted nearly 20 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed. An earlier study released last year, which surveyed 300,000 trees over 30 years, showed for the first time that rainforests consume less CO2 than before. The scientists estimate that the complementary 2020 and 2021 studies “using very different methods came to very similar conclusions.” Most of the emissions are caused by man-made fires in forested areas, many of which were deliberately “cleared by fire” by businessmen to grow beef and soybeans. But even without the fires, higher temperatures and droughts mean that the southeastern Amazon has become a source of CO2, the Guardian notes. The fires in the Amazon have been found to have produced about 1.5 billion tons of CO2 per year, with 0.5 billion tons of oxygen gain from the forest. The 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide left in the atmosphere is equivalent to the annual emissions of Japan, the world’s fifth-largest polluter.
As we know, the Amazon plays an important role in the planetary ecosystem as the largest rainforest in the world. According to scientists, the loss of the Amazon’s ability to capture CO2 is a serious warning that reducing emissions from fossil fuels is more urgent than ever. The current study used small planes to measure CO2 levels up to 4,500 meters above the forest over the past decade, showing how the entire Amazon is changing. Previous studies showing the Amazon becoming a source of CO2 were based on satellite data, which may be obstructed by cloud cover, or on ground measurements of trees, which may cover only a tiny portion of the vast region.
Scientists said the discovery that parts of the Amazon emit carbon even without fires is particularly alarming. They said the phenomenon likely resulted from annual deforestation combined with fires that made the adjacent forests more vulnerable. Trees produce most of the rain in the region, so fewer trees means more droughts and heat waves, as well as more tree deaths and increased fires.
The government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly been harshly criticized by politicians, environmentalists, and Amazon indigenous people for encouraging deforestation, which has exceeded a 12-year high this year, while fires reached their highest level last month since 2007. Luciana Gatti of the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil, who led the latest study, said: “The first very bad news is that burning the forest produces about three times as much CO2 as the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that in places where logging is 30 percent or more, carbon emissions are 10 times higher than in places where logging is less than 20 percent.”
Most of the Amazon’s timber, beef, and soybeans are currently exported from Brazil. Some European countries have said they will block the EU trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro agrees to do more to fight the destruction of the Amazon forest.