Deforestation, climate change… We explain to you why the Amazonian forest is always going up in smoke

Deforestation, climate change... We explain to you why the Amazonian forest is always going up in smoke

Every year, satellites document live the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. 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 stretches some 4,000 km in length, according to theWorld Meteorological Organization*.

As the country celebrated Amazon Day on Monday, September 5, 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 pressures. climatic.

An economic logic that encourages deforestation

After its worst month of August since 2010, with 33,116 fires (compared to 28,060 in August 2021), the Amazon is starting the month of September in flames. During 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 for the whole of September. 2021.

These fires are essentially of human origin, explains Jean-Pierre Wigneron, 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 spread over the entire Amazon – a territory straddling eight countries – and particularly hit Brazil, as evidenced by this INPE map.

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

As often, it is economic development that motivates these destructions. Starting with agricultural development – ​​the primary driver of deforestation – and forestry: “The most beautiful trees are cut down because their wood is sold at a very high price. What is then left is of less 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 the development of gigantic agricultural and pastoral farms to the detriment 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, are directly correlated with the expansion of agriculture”according to the NGO AmazonWatch*. This activity is gradually devouring the forest. We thus find the majority of the fires in an area called “arc of deforestation”: a territory which extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Bolivian border.

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

Amazon Watch notes that “in protected areas, agricultural areas have expanded by 220% between 2001 and 2018, and by 160% in indigenous territories”. Because the fires are also part of a strategy aimed at driving out the indigenous populations, engaged on the front line in the protection of this habitat and at the heart of violent land conflicts.

The result of Jair Bolsonaro’s policy

“Since the arrival of Jair Bolsonaro at the head of Brazil, the rate of deforestation 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 extractive and agricultural activities in protected areas. “In this context, criminals operate with impunity”observes Pierre Cannet

He cites in particular “the unraveling 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 of Environmental Protection”.

The protection of the Amazon forest is also one of the challenges of the upcoming presidential election in Brazil, where Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a new mandate. But for Pierre Cannet, “These fires also raise questions about our own consumption and the responsibility of our leaders.” At the end of the chain, European consumers benefit, through imported products, from the fruit of the destruction of the Amazonian forest.

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

A phenomenon exacerbated by climate change

The role of rising global temperatures in these destructive fires is as simple as it is sneaky: 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, including unintentionally, to areas that were not initially intended to be burned,” explains Jean-Pierre Wigneron. “Here, the drought exacerbates these man-made fires”, summarizes the researcher. And the massive transformation of the use of these lands, passed from forests to pastures, contributes to the 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 a whole area that now has arid conditions.”

Jean-Pierre Wigneron, researcher at Inrae

at franceinfo

This “savanization” 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, “drought has intensified in recent years, which has affected the intensity of the fires advancing through the Amazon”Explain AmazonWatch*. Quoted by the Casa foundation*, many volunteers found “changes in precipitation patterns”. In December 2021, a study published in Reviews of Geophysics* confirmed that “During the last decade, the Amazon basin has experienced several intense climatic events, such as extreme droughts and floods, unparalleled in the past century.”

“Faced with these fires today, everyone has understood that what is happening there has a direct impact on us, whether it is on our heat waves or on our ability to feed ourselves”, concludes Pierre Cannet, of WWF. Because if we are partly actors of the fires in progress in “the lung of the planet”, we will also inevitably be its victims.

* Links followed by an asterisk lead to content in English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.