• How Much Carbon Does the Amazon Release and Absorb?

Air Clean Up

How Much Carbon Does the Amazon Release and Absorb?

Jun 29 2021

The Amazon rainforest has long been considered the lungs of planet Earth. As the largest forested area anywhere in the world, the trees have been absorbing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and replenishing it with oxygen for millennia. For that reason, it has always been regarded as an important ally in the fight against climate change and global warming.

However, new statistics published by the French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) reveal that for the first time, the Amazon is releasing more carbon than it absorbs. That’s due to intensive deforestation efforts which have felled and burned much of the trees in the area, releasing the masses of carbon that they had been storing in the process.

An alarming development

The INRA study examined data from the ten years between 2010 and 2019 and concluded that during that time, the Amazon absorbed 13.9 billion tonnes of carbon. However, rampant forest fires and widespread deforestation movements have meant the figure was eclipsed by the 16.6 billion tonnes that were emitted into the atmosphere. That’s almost a fifth more than was sucked up.

“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,” explained Jean-Pierre Wigneron, co-author of the research paper. “We don’t know at what point the changeover could become irreversible.” If that tipping point is reached, the consequences could be catastrophic for all life on the planet.

Slipping standards

Wigneron’s prognosis comes in the wake of a pattern of destructive behaviour witnessed in the Amazon over recent years. Wildfires have spiralled out of control of late, while the situation has deteriorated considerably under the tenure of the right-wing government headed by Jair Bolsonaro. An outspoken climate change sceptic, Bolsonaro has consistently rubbished reports that the Amazon is being exploited and chosen to prioritise economic performance over environmental health again and again.

Perhaps most concerningly of all, his government stands accused of using the chaos caused by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic to usher in even more lax legislation surrounding the Amazon’s destruction. If true, that would certainly be one of the more dismaying environmental consequences of coronavirus. Although one prominent government official was caught on camera stating as much, Bolsonaro has vehemently denied the suggestion.

Looking after our lungs

Just as the respiratory system in a human body needs proper care and maintenance if it is to fulfil its vital role effectively, so too does the Amazon rainforest demand safeguarding from short-sighted politicians and corporations. And just as the body will suffer and even die if its lungs are compromised, the Earth could face disastrous repercussions if the Amazon is allowed to emit more carbon than it absorbs on a permanent basis.

France has been a particularly vocal critic of Bolsonaro’s policy towards his own country’s natural resources, while the science is clear on the course of action we need to take in order to slow climate change. However, the international pressure on Brazil has not yet exerted its desired effect and the rainforest continues to suffer from the avarice and opportunism of land developers and right-wing political interests.


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