According to the most comprehensive study of the region ever carried out, more than 200 scientists collaborated on the new report, which finds that the Amazon rainforest more than a third of the world’s biggest tropical forest is degraded or deforested, rainfall is declining and dry seasons are growing longer and an irreversible, catastrophic tipping point threatens. Tipping points may already have been passed in some areas, such as the south-east Amazon and on the border between northern Brazilian states Maranhão and Pará, where more than 70% of the rainforest has gone and once-abundant species are endangered.
Jos Barlow of Lancaster University said the urgency of the Amazon crisis necessitated a change of outlook. “...there is now irrefutable evidence that parts of the Amazon have reached a tipping point, with mega-fires, increased temperatures, reductions in rainfall. The severe social and ecological changes mean that a rethink is urgently needed. We cannot continue business as usual..."
The diversity of plants, insects and animals confers stability and resilience to local ecosystems, plays a critical role in global water cycles and regulates climate variability. The basin produces the largest river discharge on Earth, accounting for 16% to 22% of the world’s river input to the oceans. These globally important functions are weakening as a result of land conversion for cattle ranches and soy plantations, and disruptions of river systems by dams and hydroelectric dams. About 17% of the Amazon has been cleared and more than 17% degraded.
Human destruction is emerging so quickly that there has not been time to include them all in this study. In the past week, the forest has been cleared in Ecuador’s Yasuni national park for an oil road and pipelines. In the Volta Grande stretch of the Xingu River in Brazil, the Canadian mining company Belo Sun is closing in on a deal for an open cast pit that would scar the Amazon landscape and could contaminate water supplies that have already been disrupted by the nearby Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.
The problem is likely to widen unless the current destructive model of development, which only benefits a small minority, is replaced by a more holistic and inclusive approach.