By Chris Lang
A new study in Nature Climate Change used satellite monitoring to measure carbon storage in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest between 2010 to 2019. The research team found that the Brazilian Amazon released more carbon than it stored in that ten-year period. Forest degradation accounted for three times more carbon loss than deforestation.
The research team found a significant rise in deforestation in 2019. In 2017 and 2018, Brazil lost about one million hectares per year. In 2019, the figure shot up to 3.9 million hectares.
The deforestation in 2019 was 30% higher than in 2015, when extreme droughts led to large numbers of trees dying and wildfires. Nevertheless, the research team found that carbon losses in 2015 were larger than in 2019. Above-ground biomass loss in 2015 was three times larger than in 2019.
This illustrates the impact that forest degradation can have on carbon storage in the Amazon rainforest.
“Degradation is a pervasive threat”
Stephen Sitch, Professor in Physical Geographry at the University of Exeter, was one of the authors. In a press statement, Sitch comments that,
The Brazilian Amazon as a whole has lost some of its biomass, and therefore released carbon.
We all know the importance of Amazon deforestation for global climate change.
Yet our study shows how emissions from associated forest degradation processes can be even larger.
Degradation is a pervasive threat to future forest integrity and requires urgent research attention.
The research team found that, between 2010 and 2019, the Amazon rainforest in Brazil absorbed 13.9 billion tonnes of CO2 but released 16.6 billion tonnes of CO2.
Forest degradation (73%) contributed three times more to the gross AGB loss than deforestation (27%), given that the areal extent of degradation exceeds that of deforestation.
Another co-author, Jean-Pierre Wigneron, at France’s National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA), told Agence France-Presse that,
We half-expected it, but it is the first time that we have figures showing that the Brazilian Amazon has flipped, and is now a net emitter.
We don’t know at what point the changeover could become irreversible.
REDD “results-based” payments?
In February 2019, the Green Climate Fund agreed a “results-based payment” of more than US$96 million to Brazil for “reducing emissions from deforestation in the Amazon region in 2014 and 2015”. According to the Green Climate Fund,
These results have subsequently been reported to the UNFCCC and undergone technical assessment and are fully compliant with UNFCCC requirements and the Terms of Reference for the GCF’s pilot programme on REDD+ results-based payments.
The paper in Nature Climate Change exposes how completely insane the idea of REDD “results-based” payments actually is. While the Brazilian Amazon is a source of carbon emissions, the Green Climate Fund made “results-based” REDD payments for two years that saw increased deforestation compared to previous years.
In fact, Brazil’s most impressive reductions to the rate of deforestation took place between 2004 and 2009 – in the five years before any REDD payments were made.
Under Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current President, deforestation is accelerating dramatically. In 2020, deforestation in Brazil hit a 12-year high.
In December 2020, Greenpeace’s Cristiane Mazzetti told the Guardian that,
This is an even worse number than 2019 and a direct reflection of the Bolsonaro administration’s anti-environmental policies which have weakened the monitoring agencies and used misguided strategies to fight deforestation, such as deploying the armed forces rather than environmental protection agents.
These numbers show us that we are continuing to move in the wrong direction than the one needed to deal with the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis.
In 2021, deforestation looks set to get even worse.
Deforestation rates in April 2021 were 43% higher than in April 2020. Satellite images from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reveal that 580 square kilometres of forest was destroyed in April 2021.
In the first four months of 2021, 1,152 km2 of forest was destroyed – more than the total area deforested in 2017 and 2018. Brazil’s notorious forest fires take place between May and October.
In August 2019, in a Guest Post on REDD-Monitor, Dr. Lauren Gifford wrote that,
As the Amazon rainforest burns, and reaches what some scientists have called a “tipping point,” beyond which it might never recover, it is time to unequivocally call an end to the experiment that is REDD+, the development mechanism designed to offset carbon dioxide pollution via investment in tropical forest conservation. The attempt to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation has failed.
Proponents of REDD and Natural Climate Solutions ignore scientists’ warnings
Over the years, REDD-Monitor has written a series of posts warning about the dangers of relying on forests to “offset” emissions from burning fossil fuels. As the Amazon tips from a carbon sink to a carbon source, the plan to rely on forests to address climate change is exposed as accelerating the climate crisis.
Yet proponents of REDD and Natural Climate Solutions, including industrial scale greenwashers such as the World Business Council on Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum, continue to push these false solutions.
Here are some of the posts on REDD-Monitor based on climate scientists’ warnings about the capacity of rainforests to store carbon as the climate crisis intensifies and as rates of tropical deforestation continue to increase: