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“We are losing the Amazon rainforest”: Record number of forest fires in parts of Brazil | CBC News

Fire is stealing life from parts of the Amazon rainforest. There were more than 10,000 fires in the state of Roraima in northern Brazil in February five times higher than averageAccording to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the fires continued to burn throughout March.

We are losing the Amazon rainforest. “These climate changes caused by El Niño are making this wildfire season even worse than what we are used to in the forest,” said Marcio Astrini, executive director of the Brazilian Climate Observatory.

Wildfires in normally moist tropical rainforests have been exacerbated by a catastrophic combination of increased temperatures, historic drought and deforestation.

Although the one-term government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has reduced Brazil’s deforestation rate by more than 20 percent, a hot, dry 2023 strained trees in the Amazon region, which stretches across eight countries.

Analysis by Copernicus, a European atmospheric monitoring service, estimates that fires in Brazil in February released the highest amount of carbon dioxide in more than two decades. Half of the 45.1 megatons of CO2 released reportedly came from the fires in Roraima state.

VIEW | Parts of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest experienced record wildfires in February:

Record wildfires in the Amazon region in February. That’s not normal

Parts of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest saw more wildfires in February than in all of 2023 – and that was already a bad year. CBC’s Susan Ormiston explains why it’s happening and why it could be a devastating tipping point for the rainforest.

“[In] Colombia, Venezuela and Guyana are also experiencing very high fire activity. “This is further evidence that climate plays a very important role in this,” said Ane Alencar, scientific director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute.

“Prone to burns”

The Amazon is one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. capable of storing more than 150 billion tons of carbon, equivalent to about 10 years of global greenhouse gas emissions. But when temperatures are unusually high, the majestic green canopy begins to suffer.

“The first thing the trees do is they shed their leaves and then they have very good fuel for the fire,” Alencar told CBC News.

“At the same time, when you open the canopy, you allow the exchange of dry air with moist air. This makes the microclimate inside the forest more susceptible to burning.”

Back in September, as North America’s wildfire season was winding down, Brazil was experiencing the effects of a crippling drought that began last March. People in Manaus, one of the centers of the Brazilian Amazon region, suffocated from the smoke.

A man in a red suit and goggles stands near a raging fire.
A firefighter looks on during firefighting efforts in a rainforest in Canta Township in February. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Alencar says she checked the level of particulate matter in the air and compared it to the worst fires in Quebec, where smoke reached as far as New York last June and made international headlines with photos of red, hazy air over Manhattan.

In the Amazon, the levels were the same or worse, she said. According to Alencar, indigenous communities breathed in so much smoke every day, but without the outcry seen in North America.

“This year we felt this huge change. The air and humidity are very low and this has also caused problems with illnesses in families, especially children,” said Cesar Da Silva, an indigenous leader.

Parts of the Amazon basin withered, making transport by boat almost impossible and mountains of dead fish floating to the surface due to the unusually warm water. In October, the Amazon’s most important tributary, the Rio Negro, reached its lowest level since annual records began in the early 20th century.

Houses in the foreground and a large boat in the background lie on a dry riverbed.
Floating houses are stranded at the port of Cacau Pirera district in Iranduba, Amazonas state, Brazil, due to the severe drought on the Rio Negro, September 25, 2023. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Efforts to curb illegal deforestation

According to Luciana Gatti, a greenhouse gas specialist and researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, despite progress in protecting the forest under President Lula da Silva, some parts are already 40 percent deforested.

Efforts to curb illegal deforestation are still facing fierce resistance from powerful ranching interests in states still controlled by supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s party.

“We are no longer facing Bolsonaro’s term, but the policies that try to undermine forest protection in Brazil are really alive, they are still active in the country,” Astrini said.

“International pressure, international monitoring is absolutely important and makes a difference,” he said.

Two men in white button-up shirts hold hands near some trees. You also give a thumbs up.
Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (left) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron on Combu Island, near Belem, Brazil, March 26. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

Last week, France and Brazil announced an investment plan to raise more than a billion euros to protect the forest.

International funding had declined during Bolsonaro’s presidency; In 2019, Bolsonaro accused Macron and other G7 countries of treating Brazil like “a colony.”

“After a four-year stalemate and a virtual freeze in political relations between our two countries during Bolsonaro’s presidency, we are in the process of revitalizing bilateral relations and the strategic partnership with Brazil,” a French presidential adviser told Reuters on Friday.

Money cannot cool the climate

Scientists predict that the El Niño weather phenomenon, which has helped worsen the drought, will subside by the end of this year. But few can predict what 2024 will bring as high ocean temperatures continue to hit records.

The parts of the Amazon above the equator are facing a rainy season, but this is delayed. Below the equator in Brazil, the rainforest is heading into fall, when it typically becomes drier and warmer, and there is concern that there will no longer be any rain to feed the rivers and lakes.

Top view of a green forest
A healthy Amazon rainforest outside Manaus, Brazil, in October 2022. The Amazon plays a large role in regulating the climate, being one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

“We [are] “We are coming to a very dangerous limit for the Amazon, and not everyone realizes that we are very close to that limit,” Gatti said.

But the coming year brings with it alarm signals. Money can help monitor and curb deforestation efforts, but it cannot cool the climate, and 2024 could break temperature records again.

“We have to do something like this [consider this] an emergency situation. We can’t wait,” said Gatti.

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