Forest protection

Much of the Amazon rainforest nears catastrophic collapse

While the world’s attention is focused on COVID-19 and geopolitical issues, another danger is creeping up on us. Scientists warn: three-quarters of the Amazon rainforest is approaching the point where it will dry up without the possibility of recovery, turning into pastures.

For decades, climate modelling has shown: the combination of local deforestation and global warming has weakened the Amazon’s resilience and put it at risk. The trees evaporate a surprising amount of water, which falls nearby as rain. When one area is destroyed, less moisture falls on the others. At some point, the amount of rainfall will decrease so much that large areas will dry out.

Using a quarter of a century of satellite data, the University of Exeter measured the resilience of rainforest patches by how local forests responded to changes in weather patterns each month. Resilience is a forest’s ability to recover from natural disasters, human intervention and extreme weather events.

It has been found that over 75% of the Amazonian tropical forest has lost resilience since the turn of the century. The loss has been most dramatic within 200 km of large farms and settlements and in drier areas where any reduction in rainfall hits harder.

The solutions are familiar: drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting as much of the Amazon rainforest as possible from negative human factors.