The fact that the Amazon rainforest, which continues to be hit by intense deforestation, releases more CO2 than it has absorbed in the last 10 years, is a “warning for humanity,” an environmental group official said.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the occasion of World Rainforest Day, Emmanuelle Berenger, lead sustainable forest manager for the Rainforest Alliance, a New York-based NGO, said that preserving forests for humanity’s well-being is not an option anymore, rather it is a must.

“Between 2010 and 2019, for example, degradation in the Brazilian Amazon — caused by fragmentation, overharvesting, or fires that damage but do not destroy trees — caused three times more emissions than outright destruction of the forest,” she noted.

Touching on a recent report that suggested that since 2010, the Amazon rainforest has emitted more CO2 than it has absorbed, Berenger said this is “a warning to humanity.”

“This has an impact on climate change, but also on biodiversity, as the Amazon hosts 40% of the world’s remaining rainforest and 25% of its terrestrial biodiversity,” Berenger added.

Noting that the Amazon creates nearly half of its rainfall as well as fueling rainfall across the entire Western hemisphere, she said that increasing degradation of the rainforest will also have a significant impact on hydrological systems globally.

Worst-case scenario

“This would lead to an irreversible flip in local weather that could dry out the forest, increase its susceptibility to fire, and cause most of the Amazon to die off and become a savannah-type ecosystem,” she stressed, referring to some studies that if over 30% of the Amazon rainforest got lost, it could reach a “tipping point.”

Berenger went on to say that, in that scenario, there would also be “unforeseen consequences” for weather patterns, plant and animal species as well as the people who live in and depend on the forest.

“Furthermore, there is a strong link between tropical forest destruction and the development of pandemics, as deforestation and wildlife hunting can lead to the spillover of diseases from animals to humans,” she said, noting that about 70% of new infectious diseases have come from animals, including COVID-19, SARS, bird flu, Ebola and HIV.

In response to a question on the deforestation effects on indigenous communities, Berenger said that indigenous peoples and local communities can be the world’s best guardians of forests.

“Messing with the Amazon’s role in climate and rainfall patterns will hurt Brazil and its peoples first and foremost … Degraded ecosystems will also offer less resilience to the changing climate, meaning natural resources people depend on could run scarce,” she stated.

Giving an example of a negative result of deforestation on indigenous people, Berenger pointed out that the smoke caused by fires in the rainforest also poses significant health risks as it often results in many premature deaths.

COVID-19 affects conservation works

In response to a question on how the ongoing pandemic affects conservation works on the ground, Pilar Pedrinelli, global public engagement manager for the Rainforest Alliance, said that many protected areas around the world reported that they had problems with budgets, management capacities, and effectiveness due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“From Costa Rica to Kenya and to Indonesia, ecotourism has collapsed. These activities do not only provide revenue for the communities, they also often fund conservation activities,” Pedrinelli noted.

However, she pointed out that climate change and environmental issues remain the top items in citizens’ agenda around the world as the pandemic has led to increase in environmental consciousness.

“I think that awareness of the importance of rainforests as the ‘lungs of our planet’ and particularly their vital role in storing carbon dioxide has been growing for years,” she said, adding that there is also a lack of understanding on public minds about the understanding of the impacts of forest destruction and degradation on everyday lives.

Underlining that there is still time to save rainforests of the world, including the Amazon, even though it will require a “massive and immediate response”, Pedrinelli called for global cooperation that includes businesses, local and indigenous communities, NGOs and governments.

“What individuals can do to educate others and to help protect the world’s remaining rainforests, is to support the work of organizations like the Rainforest Alliance, which trains farmers and forest communities in sustainable land management practices and forest restoration,” she added.

Stopping forest destruction by boosting rural prosperity, building ethical supply chains and influencing policy are the main agenda of the Rainforest Alliance which operates in 70 countries, Pedrinelli said.

Launched in 2017 by Rainforest Partnership, World Rainforest Day is celebrated annually on June 22 to raise awareness and encourage action to protect the world’s rainforests.

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests. The group aims to create a better future for people and nature by making responsible business the new normal.​​​​​​​

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