Brazil LAB debates recent data on Amazonia’s alarming deforestation rate and its impact on climate change

Friday, Nov 19, 2021

“A tipping of the Amazon is the only thing I can think of that would prevent Brazil from emerging as one of the world’s strongest economies,” Princeton scientist Stephen Pacala stated yesterday during the second online event of Amazonian Futures — a series of conversations the Brazil LAB is organizing together with the research initiative Amazônia 2030 and the High Meadows Environmental Institute.

“Amazonian Deforestation and Climate Change: What Brazilian Scientists Are Seeing” took place amidst worldwide public uproar with the news that the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has hit its highest level in over 15 years. A report by National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), released on November 18, 2021, revealed that deforestation increased by 22% in a year.

Tasso Azevedo, MapBiomas General Coordinator and Brazil LAB Affiliated Scholar and Luciana Gatti, Researcher at the National Institute for Space Research, participated in the event that was moderated by João Biehl, Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology and Brazil LAB Director.

Last week, Brazil signed an agreement at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, together with 100 other countries, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. According to Azevedo, Brazil only did so because of intense international pressure: “One week before we were shamed by a report from United Nations showing that among the world’s 20 largest economies, Brazil was the only one that actually went backwards in its commitments to reduce emissions.” For the coordinator of MapBiomas, the government is simply buying time and not taking actions to protect the forest and the indigenous peoples currently under intensified threat.

Luciana Gatti drew from her research recently published in Nature to show how the Brazilian Amazon has tragically turned in the recent years from a carbon sink to a carbon source. Deforested areas in the region have experienced radical increases in temperature, rainfall pattern changes, and an unparalleled breakdown in ecological feedback mechanisms that speak to “a dying rainforest.” Gatti called for strong national and international pressure on policy makers and market institutions and the creation of adequate accountability mechanisms to curb illegal activities and the unabated deforestation of the Amazon.

According to Pacala, Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, and a member of President Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, “the news on the scientific front is uniformly bleak unless we take really significant action.” Pacala also highlighted the responsibility of countries like the US to reduce the costs of clean technologies for agriculture and livestock and the importance of crystallizing the financial commitments of reach countries and supporting the rights of indigenous peoples in the vital Amazonian planetary nexus.