Amazon’s dangerous ‘tipping point’
THE Amazon would be dangerously close to the estimated "tipping point" as soon as 2021, beyond which the rainforest could no longer generate enough rain to sustain itself, a senior economist says.
Monica de Bolle, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, calculates that if the current rate of deforestation is maintained over the next few years and government policy failure continues, that's when the world-renowned rainforest will reach tipping point.
In her policy brief that states the Amazon is a "carbon bomb" the world needs to avoid setting off, she outlines how the fires in Brazil represent a government policy failure over many years, with Brazilian public agencies that are supposed to curb man-made fires "deliberately weakened".
She said in keeping with his far-right nationalist campaign promises, President Jair Bolsonaro's government has intentionally backed away from efforts to combat climate change and preserve the environment, which has emboldened farmers, loggers, and other players to engage in predatory activities in the rainforest.
The trees of the Amazon store 60 billion to 80 billion tonnes of carbon.
"The rainforest is often wrongly called 'the lungs of the world'," de Bolle said.
"It stores carbon, but that is not what fights climate change. It would be more apt to describe it as a 'carbon bomb'.
"Setting fire to the forest for deforestation may release as much as 200 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere a year, which would spur climate change at a much faster rate, not to mention associated changes in rainfall patterns that may result from deforestation.
Ms de Bolle said the tragic fires had demonstrated that protecting the Amazon was a global cause.
She said the international attention provided an opportunity for the governments of Brazil and the United States to stop denying climate change and co-operate on strategies to preserve the rainforest and develop ways to sustainably use its natural resources.
Some climate scientists believe the tipping point is still 15 to 20 years away.
The briefing highlighted that in August Brazil's National Institute for Space Research estimated that total deforestation was 222 per cent higher than it was in August 2018.
The Amazon Basin contains 40 per cent of the world's tropical forests and accounts for 10-15 per cent of the biodiversity of Earth's continents.
In August, Professor Will Steffen, a member of Australia's Climate Council said there was credible evidence that a tipping point may exist for the Amazon rainforest.
"A combination of direct human landclearing and climate change - primarily through changing rainfall regimes - can trigger a rapid conversion of much of the forest to savanna or grassland ecosystems, thereby emitting large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere," he said.
"Yet there seems to be little attention given to such global-level feedbacks and abrupt shifts associated with land systems."