Saving the Amazon: End deforestation and land conversion by 2030

Saving the Amazon: End deforestation and land conversion by 2030
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The fires raging in the Amazon forest are now large enough to be seen from space — an appropriate vantage point given the global nature posed by this unprecedented threat. The fires are directly related to the rapid loss and degradation of forests and other critical ecosystems around the world, and a reminder of what’s at stake if we fail to protect the one planet that we call home. Make no mistake: The point of no return is fast approaching.

The number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon represents more than an 80 percent increase over this time last year. Let there be no doubt as to the cause: Most of these fires were set intentionally to clear vast tracts of forest for agriculture and cattle ranching.

It’s also important to understand that the Amazon generates half of its own rainfall. As the forest dwindles, it becomes increasingly dry, creating conditions for more frequent and intense fires. Human activity has precipitated a vicious cycle, and only we can stop it.

This should matter to people everywhere because the Amazon is the world’s largest tropical forest, home to the world’s largest undammed river as well as over 2,000 species of mammals, birds and reptiles and some 3,000 species of freshwater fish. At risk are iconic species like the jaguar, toucan and river dolphins, as well as countless species that have yet to be seen or recorded by science. That wealth of biodiversity in turn helps to sustain the health of the forest, as various species contribute to seed dispersal, pollination and other essential services. But populations of forest-dwelling creatures monitored by World Wildlife Fund around the world have already declined on average by 54 percent — in a single person’s lifetime. Given the damage that’s already been done, we can hardly afford to lose the most biologically diverse landscape on Earth.

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The benefits of the Amazon extend beyond wildlife, and beyond its own borders. The forest is home to ancestral communities with rich cultures and 300 different languages. Some 40 million people in and around the Amazon directly rely upon the forest for their livelihoods. The Amazon is also a weather engine, helping to regulate precipitation patterns and water quality for much of Latin America. That complex hydrological cycle is already close to a tipping point: Some experts believe we need to keep deforestation in the Amazon below 20-25 percent or risk catastrophe. We have already lost around 20 percent, leaving precious little room for error.

On an even larger scale, the Amazon effectively acts as the planet’s lungs, reproducing 20 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere. The Amazon also stores as much as 90 billion to 140 billion tons of carbon in the ground. If we lose the forest, all that carbon will be released into the atmosphere — and one of our greatest natural mechanisms for absorbing it again will be forever lost.

Our planet is undergoing radical changes and we must radically change our behavior to ensure a stable future for both people and nature. That means committing to net-zero deforestation and land conversion by 2030 — and working with businesses to achieve the sustainable production and consumption needed to fulfill those commitments. It also means expanding protected areas and, critically, taking concrete steps to enforce them.

The Amazon wildfires are rightfully grabbing headlines right now, but they are hardly an isolated phenomenon. At this very moment, fires are also burning in Chiquitania, the Cerrado, the Pantanal and elsewhere — many of them the result of unchecked deforestation. And here in the U.S., summer has brought a wave of unprecedented wildfires to Alaska. Around the world, we are squandering the natural treasures that have underwritten several millennia of human history. We can fiddle while Earth’s lungs burn, or we can take steps right now to save the planet, and ourselves.  

Roberto Troya is regional director for World Wildlife Fund- Latin America.