Is the Amazon rainforest doomed? Not if we can help it

Posted by jamie — 12 March 2009 at 3:53pm - Comments

There are some alarming stories in the press today about how much of the Amazon rainforest will be lost due to climate change. According to a new report from the Met Office's Hadley Centre, up to 85 per cent of it will disappear if we see a 4C rise in global temperatures.

It's a nightmare scenario and on the face of it, it makes you wonder if we shouldn't just throw in the towel - I have to admit to the occasional dark thought along those lines myself. But on the contrary, information like this illustrates yet again how crucial it is that we address climate change and deforestation together, and do it now before we get locked in to huge temperature rises.

We've known for some time that climate change will have a damaging impact on forests around the world, and this research adds some figures to that knowledge. Even if we keep global warming at 2C above pre-industrial levels, we still risk losing 20-40 per cent of the Amazon through more droughts, increased forest fires and trees dying at a younger age (even if they are getting bigger).

Of course, the more forest areas we lose, the worse climate change becomes. Which leads to more forest loss, and greater climate change and so on. There's nothing positive about this positive feedback loop. As Paulo Adario from our Amazon office put it, "the Amazon is both a climate change victim and villain."

We need to break that loop, or at least reduce its effects as much as possible. To achieve that, there are three things we can do:

  • Stop cutting down trees: blindingly obvious, but it has to be said. Only by getting to a stage where we've got zero deforestation will we get a grip on climate change and reduce the risk of further forest loss from illegal logging, agricultural expansion and the rest.
  • Rich countries pay to protect forests: our governments should be providing money to poorer countries to protect their rainforests. It's a global problem that needs a global solution.
  • Cut our greenhouse gas emissions: because forest funding schemes can't be used as an excuse to offset our emissions and do nothing at home- we need to do both. That means getting really smart with our energy efficiency, stop building coal power stations, and no more airport expansion.

The window of opportunity in which we can avoid the worst effects of climate change is narrowing rapidly, so it's always good to get a reminder of just how urgent the problem is. But after the momentary cloud of fatalism has passed, it's time to get on with the job. Back to work, everyone.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

Follow Greenpeace UK