ENVIRONMENT

Amazon rainforest emitting more C02 than it absorbs, study finds

Smoke rises from a burnt area of the Amazon rainforest reserve, in Para state, Brazil. The forest, a study says, is producing more carbon dioxide than it is absorbing.
Smoke rises from a burnt area of the Amazon rainforest reserve, in Para state, Brazil. The forest, a study says, is producing more carbon dioxide than it is absorbing. AFP - JOAO LAET

Climate scientists have confirmed the Amazon rainforest has become a source of carbon, rather than a carbon sink.

Advertising

In a report published in Nature, scientists said tree loss and a growing number of fires were to blame for the forest losing its power to capture C02.

Long referred to as “the lungs of the world”, the Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest and, as such, has been an important buffer against climate change.

However, human disturbances, mainly in the south-east, have seen the forest reach a tipping point past which it emits more carbon that it can absorb.

A billion tonnes of C02

Measurements taken by the researchers, who sampled CO2 levels 4,500 metres above the forest using aeroplanes, show the emissions amount to a billion tonnes of carbon a year.

Almost 600 measurements were taken from four parts of the Amazon between 2010 and 2018.

“The intensification of the dry season and an increase in deforestation seem to promote ecosystem stress, increased fires, and higher carbon emissions in the eastern Amazon,” the study said.

Temperatures in this part of the forest have risen by three times the global average during the hottest months.

RFI has reported on previous research using satellite imaging technology to measure and analyse emissions caused by forest degradation and disturbance.

Scientists warned that illegal activities and growing weaknesses in the rule of law were putting protected lands at risk, especially as global demand for mineral wealth, fuel and commodities grows.

De facto guardians of the forest

Indigenous territories, usually in the more remote parts of the forest, have been credited with keeping out groups looking to clear the land for cattle or other uses.

“When they have title from the government, or other types of support, they've been able to keep that deforestation out pretty effectively,” David Kaimowitz, an expert on forests and conservation, told RFI.

Over the past few years, however, that support has been waning in tandem with the growing threat of forest fires, which in turn are making the forest drier.

President Jair Bolsonaro's government has faced widespread criticism for weakening protections and encouraging deforestation, which is now at a 12-year high.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning