The Amazon rainforest serves as one of the planet’s most crucial carbon sinks, playing a significant role in absorbing substantial quantities of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels. Despite its critical function, the forest remains vulnerable, with approximately 17% of its expanse already lost due to destruction.
Leaders of eight Amazon rainforest countries will meet this week in the northern Brazilian city of Belem for a summit to discuss ways to protect the crucial carbon sink, as well as sustainable development in the region and the role of Indigenous peoples, in, among other things, protecting the forest.
“The world needs to help us preserve and develop the Amazon,” Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told journalists last week ahead of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) meeting. The country contains around 60% of the forest.
A new leader, a new hope
Lula da Silva took over as president of Brazil in January this year. Under his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, vast tracts of the Amazon fell to make way for mining, cattle ranches, and soybean farming. In 2022 alone, the last year of Bolsonaro’s leadership, almost 2 million hectares (5 million acres) of forest was lost.
During his tenure from 2019 to 2022, Bolsonaro’s administration weakened regulation and enforcement around deforestation, shrinking the budgets of agencies monitoring environmental crimes and pushing for laws allowing forest-destroying mining on indigenous land.
It took a toll. Deforestation in Brazil in 2015 accounted for just over a quarter of global tree cover loss in tropical primary forests, which are some of the oldest and most untouched forests in the world. That figure grew to 43% in 2022, according to the recent Global Forest Watch (GFW) report published by research organization World Resources Institute
But since Lula da Silva took office, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon seems to be slowing. Official figures show a drop of 33.6% from January to June compared to the same period in 2022.
Lula da Silva wants to go further and has promised to halt illegal deforestation completely in the Amazon by 2030.
It’s an ambitious goal that requires cooperation between states, say experts like Mercedes Bustamante, a professor specializing in land use and environmental change at the University of Brasilia.
Bustamante sees the summit as essential for tackling some of the biggest threats to the forest.
“Most activities that are now related to deforestation in the Amazon region are connected to organized crime and organized crime doesn’t know borders,” she told DW. “So, we really need integrated action between the countries in the Amazon basin so that we can track these illegal activities and make it more efficient and more effective.”
A tropical deforestation trend
Last year, Brazil was the country with by far the highest rate of tree loss in the world. Democratic Republic of Congo and Bolivia trailed a distant second and third. But deforestation remains a big problem globally.
In 2022, tree cover loss in tropical primary forests rose 10% on last year to 4.1 million hectares. That’s the equivalent of 11 football pitches of forest per minute, according to the GFW report.
It’s having a devastating impact on the climate.