Amazon rainforest: former carbon sink now emitting more CO2 than it is able to absorb

Scientists have said the findings show that cutting emissions is now more important than ever.

The Amazon rainforest, previously a carbon sink, is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it is able to absorb, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

The research found the emissions amount to a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, sparking fears that the forest is now accelerating climate change rather than slowing it down.

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Scientists say that CO2 emissions are occurring even in the absence of deliberate fires.
Scientists say that CO2 emissions are occurring even in the absence of deliberate fires.

At a glance: 5 key points

-The research used small planes for measuring CO2 levels up to 4,500m above the forest over the past ten years, showing how the whole Amazon is changing.

-Scientists discovered that most of the emissions from the Amazon are being caused by fires, many deliberately produced to clear land for beef and soy production.

-Even without fires, hotter temperatures and droughts mean the south-eastern Amazon has now become a source of CO2, rather than being a carbon sink.

-Scientists said the discovery that the forest was emitting carbon dioxide even without fires was particularly worrying.

-The findings have caused grave concern about the climate, highlighting the urgency with which carbon emissions must now be slashed.

What’s been said

Luciana Gatti, at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil and who led the research, said:

“The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%.”

With fewer trees, there’s less rain and higher temperatures, meaning that the remaining forest is even more susceptible to fires, she said.

“We have a very negative loop that makes the forest more susceptible to uncontrolled fires,” she added.

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Background

The government of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been strongly criticised for failing to act on the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and even encouraging deforestation.

With scientists calling for global action on protecting the Amazon, European nations have vowed to block an EU trade deal with Brazil and other countries unless Bolsonaro agrees to do more to tackle the destruction of the forest.