Mistakes never learned: 18 months on from the Amazon’s devastating rainforest fires

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In August 2019, devastating scenes of fires scorching one of the world’s most valuable resources – the Amazon – were broadcast around the globe, with experts warning at the time the rainforest was on the path to complete destruction.

The Amazon produces around 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen and absorbs a quarter of the carbon dioxide: In short, it plays an integral role in the world’s ecosystem.


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With a record number of fires breaking out that year, the media conveyed, clearly the scenes of mass destruction as fiery red flames swept across the 2.12 million square mile region.

It prompted a social media viral campaign, #PrayForTheAmazon, and led to French president Emmanuel Macron, calling for discussions on the “international crisis” to be at the top of the agenda at the G7 Summit.

Amazon forest fire (File photo: AFP)
Amazon forest fire (File photo: AFP)

Eighteen months on, a leading environmentalist has warned that there are no policies in place effectively curtailing illegal deforestation and helping the rainforest to recover.

2020 has witnessed more illegal deforestation, not less.

“Clear-cut deforestation rates were higher in 2020 compared to 2019 in the Brazilian Amazon,” said Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of Sao Paulo’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English Nobre said: “Government actions to curtail the mostly illegal deforestation and all illegal fires were not effective at all.”

“In the last couple of years, many of the fires in the Amazon take place within the forest, mostly in the boundaries of forest and deforested areas.”

“Fires are set in deforested areas and many flames escape towards the usually degraded forests in the vicinity of the deforested areas."

“Because this is a progressive man-made land use change year after year, there is no time for the burned forest to regenerate during the wet season."

"Therefore, those forest areas increase their degradation over the time and eventually end up fully deforested.”

Experts have said the intensifying fires across the Amazon - - has ramifications for the globe.

The fires generate a very high level of air pollution affecting the health of tens of millions of people, Nobre said.

“Of course, globally there is a loss of carbon to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and increasing the concentration of that GHG into the atmosphere.”

There is the need for renewed focus to protect the Amazon, Nobre said.

“Law enforcement has been ineffective [and] there has to be a radical change in the command and control policies to make effective implementation of law enforcement,” he said.

Across the Brazilian Amazon, Nobre claimed that in 2019, more than 90 per cent of all deforestation and 100 percent of fires were illegal. “It’s very likely the same took place in 2020,” he said.

Describing the Amazon as the ‘lungs of the planet’ is a common phrase, but Nobre is clear in his final assertion that governments need to act now, because “we will face ecological devastation without intervention.”

Read more:

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