Friday, June 21, 2024

Amazon wildfire: A global emergency


Avishee Dahal

Avishee Dahal

The Amazon rainforest covers over half of the planet's remaining rainforests and comprises the largest and most bio-diverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species. Amazon wildfire is a global crisis threatening billions of trees and ecological diversity. It is high time conserve it. It is obvious that the surrounding areas suffer the most but ultimately no one will remain unaffected. It would be difficult to keep a balance of global temperatures without the world’s largest rainforest.

The Brazilian rainforest is caught in the middle between biodiversity and business for a long time now. Despite efforts to conserve while limiting the impacts of climate change, there has been evidence of worsened deforestation, drought lately causing an imbalance in the region. The New York Times reports, in June alone, when the cooler, drier season began and cutting trees became easier, the deforestation rate rose drastically, with roughly 80 percent more forest cover lost than in June of the previous year. The National Institute for Space Research (INPE) monitoring system registered destruction of 4,699 square kilometres this year.

A major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin is soy cultivation. Global Forest Atlas mentions that seeds of soybean plant is rich in protein and 80 percent of Amazon soy is destined for animal feed; smaller percentages are used for oil or eaten directly. Brazil has 24-25 million hectares of land devoted to the growth of this crop which yields around 86.8 million metric tons of soybeans. It is currently the second largest producer of soybeans in the world following the US.

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The rainforest likely formed during the Eocene era (from 56 million years to 33.9 million years ago), is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. Destruction of this region is a global concern and entails a global crisis. Brazilian state of Amazonas has declared a state of emergency over the rising number of fires in the region as it is the fourth most affected region, reports Euronews. Smoke emissions have grown thicker, even blocking sunlight from passing in the surface, almost blanketing half of Brazil with fumes. Smokes are even spilling into neighbouring Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, spreading into South Atlantic coast. The rainforest which contributes to the 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen is burning at a record rate- 72,000 fires which is over 80 percent increase compared to the same period of the previous year according to Brazil’s research centre. Environmentalists warn that if the unprecedented burn leads to a point of no return, it could turn into dry Savanna and begin emitting carbon instead. Consequences of air pollution remain; as a ripple effect it could even harm agricultural productivity as the fumes settle on earth's surface.

President’s response

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According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) the fumes in wildfire is visible from space. Although tensions have spurred, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil who is indignant to international criticism argues that the figures are “lies”, accuses NGOs whose budgets have been cut to have started the fire, with no evidence. Furthermore, he adds that its use should not concern outsiders despite the alarming incident. After assuming the office, President had issued an open invitation to loggers and farmers to clear the land. Battling the President’s accusations, nonprofits have blamed Bolsonaro's pro-development policies for sharp increase in Amazon deforestation.

The current government is accused of “systematically dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy” by Danicley Aguiar of Greenpeace Brazil. The government has faced international pressure to protect the rainforest from illegal logging or mining activities. “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw, now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame,” the president said adding that Brazil lacks resources to fight the Amazon fire.

Fate of indigenous tribes


Indigenous tribes are caught up in a battle between supporters of business and environmental protection and suffer direct consequences. More recently, an indigenous tribe from Ecuador had won a lawsuit against Big Oil, saving millions of acres of rainforest. Far-right leaders have been repeatedly attempting to offer them with incentives to give up the land in return for a “better life”. Power play in the region to illegally destroy land for cattle ranching and other agricultural ventures has burnt forests which is a home to 1 million indigenous people and 3 million species so far.

Amazon Basin is not burning alone

The ongoing Amazon catastrophe is another emergency call after a series of wildfires in 2019. National Remote Sensing Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) assessed the massive forest fires in February that broke out in numerous places across the Bandipur National Park of the Karnataka state in India and estimated the extent of burnt area to be about 10,920 acres five days. Another Asian disaster broke in Siberia where 3 million hectares were on fire by the end of July. Indonesian forest fire have been ongoing since early this year and getting worse with time.

Drought and hot temperature did not leave even the European region unaffected. United Kingdom has faced a series of 96 wildfires lasting from February to April. North American forests, Alberta, California, Washington State were also on fire this year. Wildfire Situation Summary Report published by Agriculture and Forestry - Forest Protection Division indicated that most of the incidents in Alberta were caused either by lightning or humans. Oceania too experienced fire more than twice the numbers from previous years. Australian bushfire season from 2017 has destroyed over 90 buildings. Two separate incidents of wildfire were witnessed in New Zealand. Large fire in Pigeon Valley, the country’s largest since 1955 were however under control.


Notable international efforts to combat consequences of environmental impact

  • Ethiopian volunteers have planted over 350 million seedlings to reverse the impacts of decades of deforestation.
  • Swedish millionaire John Eliasch purchased 400,000 acres of the Amazon rainforest from a logging company for its preservation.
  • Two-fifths of European lands are now covered by trees.
  • Iceland is now replanting giant forests destroyed by the Vikings.
  • Paris goes car free for one Sunday a month to limit percentage of harmful emissions.

Amazon, an international concern

#PrayForAmazonia, #PrayForAmazons #ActForTheAmazon are trending online around the world to denounce those who have not been doing enough to douse fire while drawing attention to protect the "Planet's lung".

French President Macron called for action in his tweet on 23rd August, "Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rainforest - the lungs which produces 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen - is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon"

On 22nd August, António Guterres, the Secretary of UN tweeted, "I’m deeply concerned by the fires in the Amazon rainforest. In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected."


Active efforts and actions urgently required

Climate change initiatives will suffice ecological needs only when adequate patterns and sustainable measures are adopted. Sharper global strategy needs to be implemented to prevent such tragedy in the future. Damages done in the past and present need to be healed in order to aim for a richer sustainable future. The Convention on Biological Diversity, 29 December 1993, has three main objectives, a) conservation of biological diversity, b) sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and c) fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

As embodied in the Convention, if governments and all sectors of society apply the concepts for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity an utmost priority, we can experience a sustainable relationship between humanity and nature in generations to come. The application of these government led policies aren’t sufficient in themselves to restore the damage caused. Indigenous people who were viewed more as victims than as agents are actively participating since 2008 seeking roles to combat climate change. And their participation is crucial too, as they have centuries old methods passed down through generations which are difficult to discover through modern scientific practices.

There are ongoing efforts to “not ruin” the environment any more by people all over the world as individuals or as a group. There are centuries old experience passed down through generations and colossal amounts of research done by the scientific world. The culmination of all the knowledge around the world for the good of all is very hard to do, unless we start acting on it.

How should individuals respond?

Here are some actions that should be everyone's habit considering environmental vulnerability:

  1. Reducing paper and wood consumption; reducing waste overall,
  2. Reducing consumption of petroleum products,
  3. Growing vegetables at home as far as possible,
  4. Supporting campaigns, raising projects for awareness.

Nepali context


The 6th National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), 2018 aims to provide biodiversity awareness, incentives and subsidies for farmers involved in in-situ conservation of indigenous breeds while encouraging sustainable production, consumption and sustainable resource management. Maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem and climate change planning is an ongoing priority. At this outbreak where forests are being destroyed by either human actions or by natural catastrophes, Nepal should prioritize preserving its forest areas and ecosystem. Development projects should be reassessed by conducting Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) according to Environment Protection Act (1997).

The proposed Nijgadh airport which requires cutting of around 2.4 million trees should be carefully considered. Instead, there should be considerable efforts to find unproductive or barren lands where building an airport would have less environmental impact. The place which is allocated for the Nijgadh airport already has a rich biodiversity which significantly helps against the effects of climate change. Besides, there are plenty of places in Nepal such as Mahabharata and Chure ranges among plenty others where protection or preservation of the natural resources will be paramount. On the ongoing worldwide efforts to combat climate change, Nepal can play a vital role. Not many places in Nepal are urbanized and there are still plenty of natural resources in this tourist destination of the world.

The world we live in is at the tipping point already and is changing rapidly, even more than we can imagine. It is predicted that by 2030, there will be a rise in average annual temperatures, sea levels and melting glacial levels. The aftermaths of this will adversely affect normal human life by decreasing efficiency levels, causing prolonged life altering diseases and so much more. This can only be averted if we act on it now. Nature deserves to breathe the way it’s supposed to; if we choose to act on it, so will we.

The author is pursuing BBM LLB at Kathmandu University School of Law.

Published on 26 August 2019