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Research by scientists and indigenous organizations has concluded that the extent of the Amazon rainforest has reached a critical point
Environmental destruction in parts of the Amazon is so widespread that vast swathes of the Amazon rainforest have reached a tipping point and may never recover, a major study by scientists and indigenous organizations has found.
“The tipping point is not a future scenario, but rather a phase that has already occurred in some areas of the region,” the report concludes. “Brazil and Bolivia account for 90% of all deforestation and forest degradation combined. As a result, both countries are already experiencing savannah.”
Scientists from the Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG) collaborated with the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coica) to produce a study of Amazonia against time, one of the largest to date, covering all nine states in which parts of the Amazon are located .
She found that only two of those nine states, tiny Suriname and French Guiana, still have at least half of their forests intact.
Amazonian indigenous organizations representing 511 nations and allies are calling for a global pact to permanently protect 80% of the Amazon by 2025.
The 80% target is a huge challenge given that only 74% of the original forest remains. Urgent measures must be taken not only to protect the still-preserved primeval forest, but also to restore the degraded land and return to the 80%.
“It’s difficult but doable,” said Alicia Guzmán, the Ecuadorian scientist who coordinated the report. “It all depends on the involvement of the indigenous communities and the people who live in the forest. .”
Guzmán said the surest way to guarantee land conservation is to give indigenous groups more land to manage – and, crucially, ensure state protection and remove legal loopholes that allow the extractive industry to enter.
Almost half of the Amazon has been declared a protected area or indigenous territory, and only 14% of all deforestation occurs here. Currently, about 100 million hectares of indigenous land are under dispute or awaiting formal recognition by the government.
“Indigenous participation in the decision-making process means that we count on the knowledge of those who know the most about the forest,” Guzmán said. “And they need budgets.
They also need their land to be protected from land grabs and mining industries.
One of the growing threats is mining, with protected areas and indigenous land among the areas most coveted by miners. Much of the mining is clandestine and illegal, but about half in protected areas takes place legally, and scientists have called on governments to deny or revoke mining permits.
Another threat is oil, especially in Ecuador, which is the source of 89% of all oil exported from the region.
Oil blocks cover 9.4% of the Amazon and 43% of them are located in protected areas and indigenous territories. The report states that more than half of the Ecuadorian Amazon is designated as an oil block, and parts of Peru (31%), Bolivia (29%) and Colombia (28%) are also of concern.
Agriculture is of even greater concern. According to the report, agriculture is responsible for 84% of deforestation, and since 1985 the area of land devoted to agriculture has tripled. Brazil is one of the world’s major food exporters – soy, beef and grain supply much of the world and bring in billions of dollars a year.
A key recommendation of the study is greater cooperation between regional governments, international financial institutions and the private investment companies that hold most of the Amazonian states’ debt.
Latin America is the most indebted region of the developing world, and writing off that debt in exchange for conservation commitments would be significant.
“They have a unique opportunity to forgive existing debts in exchange for commitments to end industrial mining and support the protection of key priority areas, indigenous lands and protected areas,” the report said.
Among the other 13 “solutions” the report proposes are: a complete suspension of new licensing and financing of mining, oil extraction, cattle ranching, large dam construction, logging and other similar activities; increasing transparency and accountability in supply chains; restoration of deforested land; new governance models that will allow greater representation and recognition of indigenous peoples.
Although the task is enormous, there are reasons for optimism, especially in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro will face former incumbent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a tight election on October 2.
Lula is leading in the polls. During his administration in 2000, deforestation was reduced by more than 80%.