Climate change scientists in Brazil are scrambling to map out how higher temperatures may be causing irreversable damage to the country´s biomes.
Government policies have aimed to combat deforestation, and while somewhat successful in slowing the trend, particularly in the Amazon Rainforest, known as the “world´s lungs” since it absorbs vast quantities of greenhouse gases, the efforts may be too late as temperatures continue to climb.
Climatologist Carlos Nobre, a researcher of the National Institute of Space Research, or INPE, said the country now needs concrete measures to mitigate the effects of desertification in the semi-arid northeast and an area of 1.9 million square kilometers of tropical forest in the so-called Cerrado zone — the Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Minas Gerais, Bahia, Maranhão, Piauí, and São Paulo states — a trend that could have a devastating impact, on industry, energy as well as the human toll.
On Sept. 20, the Brazilian government unveiled an INPE study that estimated deforestation from 2009 to 2010 at around 5,000 to 6,000 square kilometers, a record low. In the previous two-year period, from 2008 to 2009, deforestation in the area totaled 7,400 square kilometers.
Deforestation is a major concern, as the trend in the region is responsible for 70 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, or 200 to 300 million tons of CO2, compared with the 90 million tons of CO2 that is emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.
It is also a worry of Brazil itself, as higher temperatures could have a direct impact on the very Amazon region.
Some studies have pointed to a loss of biodiversity as species´ habitats are degraded or destroyed entirely.
A study by the Center of Environmental Reference Information said that by 2050, with an annual increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of 0.5 percent and 1 percent, 18 of the 162 species native to the Cerrado included in the study will become extinct, and 90 percent of them will lose their habitats.
The Cerrado is one of Brazil´s most important biomes, covering 22 percent of the national territory. But unlike the Amazon, it was not considered national patrimony in the 1988 constitution, a fact that many environmentalists blame for prolonged deforestation.
“Protection for the rest of the Cerrado is urgent because it is greatly affected by the monoculture of sugar and soy,” said Márcia Correa, an ecologist of the Species Diversity Protection Society.
A severe drought worsened matters for the Cerrado in 2010 that hit during the austral winter. Forest fires increased by 386 percent compared with the previous winter to 8,113.
One of the proposals to protect the forest is a certification program. Brazil already has one of the largest certified areas in Latin America with 5 million hectares. Dozens of products with the seal of the Forest Stewardship Council, including furniture, cosmetics and other products, are on the market. Nevertheless, 40 percent of the certified areas are in the southern and southeastern regions of Brazil, meaning vast parts of Amazonia are not certified.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that deforestation could also have a major impact on Brazil´s production of coffee. Brazil is the world´s top producer of the crop, and in the state of São Paulo, nearly 40 percent of the land is apt for quality arabica beans, more than 97,000 hectares.
But studies have shown that an increase in temperature of 1º C and a 15 percent increase in rainfall could slash that area by 10 percent.
Nobre says that climate change is unavoidable now, but that Brazil needs better adaptation plans.
“We´re running behind developed countries that for years have discussed and prepared for adaptation,” he said. “Holland dedicates a good part of its gross domestic product to adaptation such as reforms to the dikes, and even the relocation of some of its population. But Brazil is also being surpassed by developing countries, such as Argentina and even small Caribbean islands,” Nobre warned. “Some grade of climate change has become unavoidable, and Brazil has an infrastructure that depends greatly on natural resources.” —Latinamerica Press.