Amazon shrinking at faster rate than ever before

A report released in the lead up to the Paris global warming talks has shown that the rate of felling of the Amazon rainforest is accelerating.

The Amazon rainforest is shrinking at a faster rate than ever.

The Amazon rainforest is shrinking at a faster rate than ever. Image by David Evers / CC BY 2.0

It’s the second time in three years that deforestation rates have grown. In 2013, the rate went up by nearly a third, while this year’s spike represents a 16 per cent increase. The news comes after several years in which efforts to slow deforestation appeared to be working.

At 5.5 million square kilometres (2.1 million square miles), 60 per cent of which is in Brazil, the Amazon basin is the largest biomass on earth. It’s sometimes called the lungs of the planet. It contains half of the world’s plant and animal species. A separate report last month indicated than half of its tree species are threatened with extinction.

The clearance rate has increased in the states of Rondônias, Amazonas and Mato Grosso, which is Brazil’s most important grain-producing state. Satellite images revealed that, between August 2014 and July 2015, 5831 square kilometres (2251 square miles) of forest was cleared. The farms that replace the forest are predominantly for cattle, soybean and poultry, although illegal logging is another scourge.

The area involved is a little less than the size of the US state of Delaware – the equivalent of 4500 football pitches a day. In the 1990s, an area the size of Spain was cleared. About half of the basin is protected, but the protected areas are under-resourced. Brazil has committed to a target of no deforestation by 2030 – but critics say most of the rainforest may have been cleared by that date.

Tropical deforestation is estimated to account for 15 and 20 per cent of global carbon emissions as the carbon stored in the forest is released into the atmosphere. Cattle farming is among the biggest contributors to carbon emissions. And some observers believe that deforestation is a contributor to the drought afflicting the east of Brazil.

Satellite imagery - and timelapse video - have made tracking global forest loss so accurate it’s possible to see the changes from one year to the next.

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