Deforestation, climate change … We explain why the Amazon rainforest always goes up in smoke

Deforestation, climate change … We explain why the Amazon rainforest always goes up in smoke

Deforestation, climate change … We explain why the Amazon rainforest always goes up in smoke

Each year, satellites document the destruction of the Amazon rainforest live. Copernicus shows, at the beginning of September, a “huge cloud of smoke and high concentrations of carbon dioxide” above the precious ecosystem. This plume of smoke extends for about 4,000 km, according to theWorld Meteorological Organization*.

As the country celebrated Amazon Day on Monday 5 September, franceinfo looks at this worrying trend affecting the largest tropical forest on the planet, a territory on the verge of being wiped out by economic, political and environmental climatic pressures.

An economic logic that encourages deforestation

After the worst month of August since 2010, with 33,116 fires (compared to 28,060 in August 2021), the Amazon begins the month of September in flames. In the first four days of the month, the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) has already identified 12,133 fires in the region, more than 70% of the total number of fires recorded throughout September 2021.

These fires are essentially of human origin, explains Jean-Pierre Wigneron, a researcher at Inrae. “The Amazon rainforest is a rainforest. Without human intervention, there would most likely be very few fires.”, assures the specialist in deforestation. The outbreaks are widespread throughout the Amazon – a territory spanning eight countries – and have particularly affected Brazil, as shown by this map of the Inpe.

The fires identified by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE), 6 September 2022. (NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR SPACE RESEARCH / QUEIMADAS PROGRAM)

As often, it is economic development that motivates these destructions. Starting with agricultural development – the main driver of deforestation – and forestry: “The most beautiful trees are cut down because their wood is sold at a very high price. What remains is of lesser economic interest. The idea is therefore to burn the surface to make pastures and crops such as soybeans”summarizes the researcher.

These mostly criminal fires allow for the development of gigantic agricultural and pastoral farms at the expense of the forest and fuel an economy that relies on the destruction of this ecosystem. “The agricultural sector is responsible for 84% of deforestation. The invasions [des terres]as well as fires, they are directly related to the expansion of agriculture “, according to the NGO Amazon Watch *. This activity is gradually devouring the forest. Thus we find most of the fires in an area called the “deforestation arc”: a territory that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the border with Bolivia.

In 2022 another agricultural region, called Amacro (at the crossroads of the states of Amazonas, Acre and Rondonia), “40% of the fires identified since the beginning of the year concentrated in the Brazilian Amazon”Romulo Batista, a spokesman for Greenpeace in Brazil, told AFP. Once preserved, the region represents “the new frontier of deforestation”believes the NGO, which denounces the will to do so “stimulate agricultural production”.

Amazon Watch detects this “in protected areas, agricultural areas expanded by 220% between 2001 and 2018 and by 160% in indigenous territories”. Because the fires are also part of a strategy aimed at chasing the indigenous populations, engaged in the front line in the protection of this habitat and at the center of violent territorial conflicts.

The result of Jair Bolsonaro’s policy

“Since the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro at the helm of Brazil, the deforestation rate has quadrupled”explains Pierre Cannet, director of advocacy and campaigns for the NGO WWF France. According to environmental protection associations, the far-right president has weakened the monitoring bodies of the Amazon and encouraged mining and agricultural activities in protected areas. “In this context, criminals operate with impunity”observes Pierre Cannet

Particularly mention “the disclosure of the control mechanisms, budgets and means of action of the bodies in charge of law enforcement and the distribution of fines, such as the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection”.

Protecting the Amazon rainforest is also one of the challenges of the upcoming presidential elections in Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro is looking for a new term. But for Pierre Cannet, “These fires also raise questions about our own consumption and the responsibility of our leaders.” At the end of the supply chain, European consumers benefit, through imported products, from the fruit of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

MEPs will also vote on September 14 on a law against deforestation. The text underlines, among other things, “the obligation to denounce this link between deforestation and the products we import”from the Brazilian wood that we find in DIY stores, to the soy that comes to feed European farms, passing through the beef that we sometimes find on our plates.

A phenomenon aggravated by climate change

The role of rising global temperatures in these destructive fires is as simple as it is subtle: global warming leads to more droughts, which lead to more fires, which contribute to global warming. “The drier the vegetation, the more the fires will spread, even unintentionally, in areas that were not initially intended to be burned”, explains Jean-Pierre Wigneron. “Here, drought aggravates these man-made fires”, summarizes the researcher. And the massive transformation of the use of these lands, from woods to pastures, contributes to drought.

“The rainforest itself creates some of the rain it needs, through evapotranspiration. The arc of deforestation is moving north and with it you see an entire area that now has arid conditions.”

Jean-Pierre Wigneron, researcher at Inrae

to franceinfo

This “savanization” it is irremediable, explains the specialist. Finally, by making room for new uses, such as grazing, the region now emits more carbon than it captures.

According to volunteers from local brigades organized within indigenous communities to fight the flames, “the drought has intensified in recent years, which has affected the intensity of the fires advancing across the Amazon”, explains Amazon Watch *. Quoted by the Casa foundation *, many volunteers observed “changes in precipitation patterns”. In December 2021 a study published in Geophysics Reviews * confirmed it “Over the past decade, the Amazon basin has experienced several intense climatic events, such as extreme droughts and floods, unprecedented in the last century.”

“In the face of these fires today, everyone has understood that what is happening there has a direct impact on us, whether it is our heatwaves or our ability to feed ourselves”, concludes Pierre Cannet, of the WWF. Because if we are in part actors of the fires in progress “the lung of the planet”, we too will inevitably be victims.

* Links followed by an asterisk lead to English content.

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