Biden Asked to Protect the Amazon

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has accelerated since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019. Last year, an area the size of Connecticut was destroyed in the world’s largest rainforest. President Biden now has the opportunity to make good on his campaign promise to dedicate $20 billion to stop deforestation in the Amazon. 

A bipartisan group of U.S. climate leaders are urging Biden to protect the rainforest. Their plan uses policy-making tools to put avoiding deforestation at the heart of future trade agreements and close loopholes in laws that currently fail to stop deforestation.   

Why This Matters: The Amazon sustains the people and wildlife living in it and the planet as a whole by absorbing carbon and stabilizing rainfall. The twin threats of deforestation and climate change put the rainforest in increased peril of becoming a dry savannah. At the current rate of deforestation, that will happen within the next 30 years. 

Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, thinks that creating a “deforestation-free supply chaincould stop new clear-cutting within five years. Under the current system, companies can’t import illegal timber. But nothing is stopping them from buying beef, soy, or other food items that may have been produced on rainforest land cleared for agriculture. Working to close these loops — as proposed in the plan on Biden’s desk — is essential. 

Deforestation + Warming = Savannah: The human impact of clearing forests coupled with climate change will eventually, if not stopped, push the Amazon to a tipping point. It will have a much more concentrated wet season, with an overall decrease in rainfall that will throw off the hydrology of the region’s water bodies. The Amazon will be more susceptible to fires and temperatures could climb to 104 degrees F. 

According to Nobre’s research, the rainforest becomes savannah when it’s 40 percent deforested with no climate change. However, with warming temperatures and the destabilization of the water cycle brought on by the climate crisis, the tipping point occurs at only 20 to 25 percent deforestation. Today, about 15 percent of the rainforest has been cut down.

Another solution to avoid the rainforest drying out? Restoring the estimated 500,000 square kilometers of the Amazon that has been abandoned or degraded

It’s not very expensive because the forest has this ability to regenerate,” Nobre told Yale Environment 360.So it’s really just to let the forest regenerate, support restoration projects, and in a few years a huge amount of forest will be regrowing. And then you are removing a lot of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s the way to go.”

 

Go Deeper: The photos in this New York Times piece show the scale of the destruction in recent years. 

 

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