The environmental destruction in parts of the Amazon is so complete that entire swathes of rainforest have reached a tipping point and may never be able to recover, a major study by scientists and organizations has found. indigenous.
“The tipping point is not a future scenario but rather a stage already present in some areas of the region,” the report concludes. “Brazil and Bolivia account for 90% of combined deforestation and degradation. As a result, savannization is already underway in both countries.
Scientists from the Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-Environmental Information (RAISG) worked with the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (Coica) to produce the study, Amazonia Against the Clock, one of the largest to date, covering the nine nations that contain parts of the Amazon.
He found that only two of the nine, tiny Suriname and French Guiana, have at least half of their forests still intact.
Indigenous Amazon organizations representing 511 nations and allies are calling for a global pact for the permanent protection of 80% of the Amazon by 2025.
The 80% target is a huge challenge given that only 74% of the original forest remains. Urgent action is needed not only to protect the remaining forest, but also to restore degraded lands back to that 80% level.
“It’s difficult but doable,” said Alicia Guzmán, an Ecuadorian scientist who coordinated the report. “It all depends on the involvement of indigenous communities and people who live in the forest. That and the debt.
Guzmán said giving indigenous groups management of more land — and above all, giving them state protection and closing loopholes that allow extractive industries to enter — was the surest way to ensure preservation. .
Nearly half of the Amazon has been designated as either a protected area or indigenous territory, and only 14% of all deforestation takes place there. Currently, approximately 100 million hectares of indigenous lands are in dispute or awaiting official recognition by the government.
“Having indigenous peoples in the decision-making process means that we rely on the knowledge of those who know the forest best,” Guzmán said. “And they need budgets.”
They also need their land to be protected from land grabbers and extractive industries.
Mining is one of the growing threats, with protected areas and indigenous lands being among the areas most coveted by prospectors. Much of the mining is clandestine and illegal, but around half in protected areas is done legally, and scientists have called on governments to reject or revoke mining permits.
Oil is another threat, particularly in Ecuador, the source of 89% of all crude exported from the region.
Oil blocks cover 9.4% of the surface of the Amazon and 43% of them are in protected areas and indigenous lands. More than half of the Ecuadorian Amazon is designated as an oil bloc, according to the report, and portions in Peru (31%), Bolivia (29%) and Colombia (28%) are also of concern.
Agriculture is even more worrying. Agriculture is responsible for 84% of deforestation and the area of land given over to agriculture has tripled since 1985, according to the report. Brazil is one of the world’s leading food exporters, with soybeans, beef and grains powering large parts of the world and bringing in billions of dollars every year.
A key recommendation of the study is greater collaboration between regional governments, international financial institutions and private equity firms that hold much of the debt of Amazon nations.
Latin America is the most indebted region in the developing world and the cancellation of this debt in exchange for preservation commitments would be important.
“They have a unique opportunity ahead of them to cancel existing debt in exchange for commitments to end industrial extraction and promote protection in key priority areas, indigenous territories and protected areas,” the report said. .
Among the other 13 “solutions” proposed in the report are: a complete suspension of new permits and funding for mining, oil, cattle ranching, large dams, logging and other similar activities ; increased transparency and accountability along supply chains; restoration of deforested lands; new governance models that allow for increased representation and recognition of Indigenous peoples.
While the task is daunting, there are reasons for optimism and particularly in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro faces former incumbent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a tense election on October 2.
Lula is leading in the polls. During his time in power in the 2000s, deforestation fell by more than 80%.