Amazon forest fires ‘on the rise’


The number of fires destroying Amazon rainforests are increasing, a study has found.

Take Cover library pictureThe BBC’s Mark Kinver reports that a team of scientists said fires in the region could release similar amounts of carbon as deliberate deforestation.

Reporting on a paper published in the journal Science, Kinver says the researchers found that that fire occurrence rates had increased in 59% of areas with reduced deforestation.

As a result, the rise in fires could jeopardise the long-term success of schemes to reduce emissions from deforestation, they added.

The researchers – from the University of Exeter, UK, and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research – based their findings on satellite-derived data on deforestation and forest fires.

“The results were a surprise because we expected that fires would have decreased with the decrease of deforestation,” said co-author Luiz Aragao from the University of Exeter.

“The implication for REDD is that we first need a system that can monitor fires,” he told the Science journal.

“There is also a need to shift land use in the Amazon to a system where fire is not used.”

‘Slash and burn’

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) schemes aim to create a financil value for the carbon stored in developing nations’ tropical forests.

It offers nations incentives to protect forest areas from a variety of impacts that release carbon into the atmosphere, including tree felling and logging, agricultural expansion, land degradation.

As deforestation accounts for about 20% of emissions resulting from human activity, the REDD programmes are considered to be a key component in the global effort to curb climate change.

“Fires following drought years are likely to release a similar amount of carbon as emissions from deliberate deforestation,” the researchers wrote.

“The higher probability of a drier Amazon in the 21st Century predicted by some global circulation models… may push Amazonia towards an amplified fire-prone system.”

They added that previous studies showed that fires in the region increased after large-scale droughts in 1998 and 2005.

“Forest landscapes in Amazonia are becoming more fragmented and, therefore, a growing proportion of forests is exposed to the leakage of accidental fires from adjacent farms,” they suggested.

The practice of “slash and burn” is widely used by farmers in the Amazon region to clear secondary forests and allow food and cash crops to be cultivated.

But Dr Aragao said: “We need to change the way people use and manage their land so that they can do this without fire.”

Commenting on the paper’s findings, Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, said: “These results have important implications for REDD negotiations.

“If we are to control deforestation, you have got to look at what local people are doing outside of the forests,” he told BBC News.

“The entire REDD regime need to encourage a better use of land without fire.

“But if they do not use fire, which is cheap, then what are they going to use – strimmers? Chainsaws? Tractors?

“That means that money from REDD programmes need to go to people that not only live within the forests, but also the farmers living outside them.”

Dr Aragao agreed, adding that switching to fire-free land management in already deforested area that lie next to forests could “drastically reduce fires and carbon emissions”.

“It would be expensive,” he observed, “but it would protect the stability of Amazonian carbon stocks and diversity.”

Pieter van Lierop, a forestry officer for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FA) – a member of the UN’s REDD programme, said the findings were relevant to policies aimed at reducing deforestation.

“The article clearly demonstrates that within REDD, specific attention should go to analyzing the role of fire and propose more responsible use of fire and/or alternatives for fire,” he told BBC News.

“However, we should also take into consideration that the article is mainly discussing fire incidence and occurence, meaning number of fires and not the size of emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 06/06/2010

Dangerous climate change ‘to kill Amazon rainforest’


Global warming will wreck attempts to save the Amazon rainforest, reports the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

It says a study presented at a major climate science conference in Denmark has predicted that one-third of its trees will be killed by even modest temperature rises.

The research, by some of Britain’s leading experts on climate change, shows that even severe cuts in deforestation and carbon emissions will fail to save the emblematic South American jungle, the destruction of which has become a powerful symbol of human impact on the planet.

Up to 85% of the forest could be lost if spiralling greenhouse gas emissions are not brought under control, the experts said.

But even under the most optimistic climate change scenarios, the destruction of large parts of the forest is “irreversible”.

Vicky Pope, of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, which carried out the study, said: “The impacts of climate change on the Amazon are much worse than we thought.

“As temperatures rise quickly over the coming century, the damage to the forest won’t be obvious straight away but we could be storing up trouble for the future.”

Tim Lenton, a climate expert at the University of East Anglia, called the study, unveiled at the University of Copenhagen gathering, a “bombshell”.

He said: “When I was young I thought chopping down the trees would destroy the forest, but now it seems that climate change will deliver the killer blow.”

The study, which has been submitted to the journal Nature Geoscience, used computer models to investigate how the Amazon would respond to future temperature rises.

It found that a 2C (3.6F) rise above pre-industrial levels, widely considered the best case global warming scenario and the target for ambitious international plans to curb emissions, would still see 20-40% of the Amazon die off within 100 years.

A 3C (5.4F) rise would see 75% of the forest destroyed by drought over the following century, while a 4C (7.2F) rise would kill 85%.

“The forest as we know it would effectively be gone,” Dr Pope said.

Experts had previously predicted that global warming could cause significant “die-back” of the Amazon.

The new research is the first to quantify the long-term effect.

Source: Guardian newspaper

Date: 12/03/2009

Norway to pay Guyana to protect rainforests


Norway will provide financial support for Guyana’s ambitious plan to conserve its rainforests, reports Mongabay.com.

During a meeting in Oslo, Guyana President Bharrat Jagdeo and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signedan agreement to establish a partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

It is also understood that the leaders will also push for the incorporation of a REDD mechanism that includes low deforestation countries like Guyana in a post-2012 climate change agreement.

“We agreed that if the world is to prevent irreversible climate change, it is essential that greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation are drastically reduced,” the men said in a statement.

It continued: “To achieve this vital objective, they agreed that determined and concerted action is needed.

“They emphasised that efforts under the UNFCCC towards REDD must be properly designed to ensure that deforestation is significantly reduced in countries where it is already occurring, and avoided in countries where deforestation rates are still low.”

Mr Stoltenberg added that REDD “would provide funding for provide funding for a shift away from forest-dependent employment and income generation, towards support for the creation of low carbon development and low deforestation economies”.

Norway’s financial commitment was not specified, although the statement noted that the Scandinavian country was “prepared to provide performance-based, substantial and sustained compensation for the progress Guyana makes in limiting emissions from deforestation at low levels and further decreasing forest degradation”.

The agreement includes the establishment of a “reputable international organisation” to distribute funds for low-carbon development based on Guyana’s performance.

President Jagdeo welcomed the deal: “The developing and the developed countries must work together to address global warming. I commend the government of Norway for showing leadership through its climate and forest initiative.”

Norway has pledged up to $430 million per year to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.

To date, it has already committed up to $1bn to Brazil’s Sustainable Amazon Fund, provided the South American country meet targets for reducing deforestation.

Source: Mongabay.com

Date: 05/02/2009

Amazon rainfall projections ‘underestimated’


Amazonian forests may be less vulnerable to dying off from global warming than feared because many projections underestimate rainfall, Reuters reports.

A study by UK researchers suggested that Brazil and other nations in the region would also have to act to help avert any irreversible drying of the eastern Amazon, the region most at risk from climate change, deforestation and fires.

“The rainfall regime in eastern Amazonia is likely to shift over the 21st Century in a direction that favours more seasonal forests rather than savannah,” the team write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seasonal forests have wet and dry seasons rather than the current rainforest, which is permanently drenched.

It is argued that this shift in precipitation patterns could result in the emergence of new species of trees, other plants and animals.

The findings challenge past projections that the Amazon forest could die and be replaced by savannah.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2007: “By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah in eastern Amazonia.”

The new study said that almost all of 19 global climate models underestimated rainfall in the world’s biggest tropical forest.

Lowland forests in the Amazon have annual average rainfall of 2,400 mm (94 inches), it said.

Projected cuts in rainfall meant the region would still be wet enough to sustain a forest.

The experts also examined field studies of how the Amazon might react to drying.

It said that seasonal forests would be more resilient to the occasional drought but more vulnerable to fires than the current rainforest.

“The fundamental way to minimise the risk of Amazon dieback is to control greenhouse gas emissions globally, particularly from fossil fuel combustion in the developed world and Asia,” said Yadvinder Malhi, the lead author from Oxford University.

But he said that governments led by Brazil also needed to improve their forest management policies.

Global warming is “accompanied by an unprecedented intensity of direct pressure on the tropical forests through logging, deforestation, fragmentation, and fire use,” the scientists wrote.

And fires, including those touched off by lightning, were more likely to cause wide damage to forests already fragmented by roads or by farmers clearing land to plant crops, such as soya beans.

Source: Reuters

Date: 09/02/2009

Ranching ‘biggest driver of deforestation’ in Brazil


Cattle ranching is the biggest driver of deforestation in Brazil, says Greenpeace.

In evidence presented at the World Social Forum, hosted by Belem in the heart of the Amazon, the environmental group said it showed that cattle ranching was the biggest driver of Amazon deforestation.

Greenpeace Brazil has produced a series of maps which it said showed the links between cattle ranching and tree felling in the highest resolution to date.

The details have been released as part of the organisation’s Save the Planet – Now tour.

Greenpeace lists the South America nation as the world’s fourth biggest polluter, with 75% of its emissions stemming from deforestation.

The Brazilian government has pledged to tackle destruction of the Amazon as part of its climate commitments. However, green campaigners say plans to expand its cattle industry contradict these.

Internationally, tropical deforestation is responsible for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global transport sector.

Source: Greenpeace International

Date: 29/01/2009

Amazon deforestation trend ‘on the increase’


Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon forests has flipped from a decreasing to an increasing trend, ScienceDaily reports.

Commenting on the figures released by the country’s space agency INPE, Brazilian environment minister Carlos Minc confirmed that the government was set to announce forest related carbon emission reduction targets.

He added that he hoped that the scheme would link halting deforestation to the national climate change campaign.

From August 2007 to July 2008, Brazil deforested 11,968 square kilometers of forests in the area designated as the Legal Amazon.

This was a 3.8% increase over the previous year and an unwelcome surprise following declines of 18% over the previous period.

From 2003-2004 to 2006-2007, annual deforestation totals from the agency fell from 27,423 sq-km to 11,532 sq-km.

There were fears that the current trend could have been worse but for new measures introduced part way through the year when it became apparent that annual deforestation was accelerating towards a possible 15,000 hectare level.

Source: ScienceDaily

Date: 04/01/2009

Forests face fiery future, warn UK’s Met Office


Climate change is putting further pressure on forests, with less rain and increased drought leading to increased risk from fire, the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre has warned.

Deforestation is already a major cause of carbon emissions, it warns, and is currently estimated to exceed those from the global transport sector.

Hadley Centre scientists attending the UN climate conference in Poznan claimed that new estimates of future deforestation in critical regions, such as the Amazon, were much larger than those used by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With no controls on deforestation, the area of forest lost could be five times greater than outlined in the IPCC’s Special Report Emissions Scenarios (SRES).

The researchers warned that even with effective governance the loss could be double.

Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate advice at the Met Office, said: “In addition to man-made deforestation, climate change may cause the ‘die-back’ of the Amazonian forest.

“However, deliberate deforestation in Amazonia is likely to have a bigger impact in the short term.”

Climate scientists are assessing the potential impacts of ongoing deforestation on climate change and the extent to which reducing deforestation could contribute to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations.

By avoiding deforestation during the early part of this century, carbon emissions would be reduced by up to 27 gigatonnes by 2050.

In a double benefit, preservation of the forest would maintain a carbon sink from carbon dioxide fertilisation of photosynthesis, which is worth a further four gigatonnes by 2050.

Climate change is also expected to put further pressure on forests, the UK researchers warn.

They said that in previous droughts, such as 2005, fires used for forest clearance became uncontrolled and larger areas were burnt through this “fire leakage”.

Climate change is also likely to reduce rainfall in the region.

The researchers suggest that even if this does not directly damage plants, it is likely to increase the risk of fire leakage which would magnify the impact of deforestation.

Source: UK Met Office press release

Date: 10/12/2008

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