By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, Sep 5 (EFE).- The Amazon region’s ability to restore itself is being exhausted and, if the current rate of deforestation continues, saving the “planet’s green lung” must begin before 2025, according to a report laying out global strategies to protect 80 percent of the Amazon’s forests, a challenge that the document says it’s still possible to achieve.
“A large part of Amazonia … is emitting more carbon than it’s absorbing. It’s changing the ecological role of the Amazon region and, if it continues as this rate … it’s very dangerous,” Marlene Quintanilla, one of the main researchers who prepared the report titled “Amazonia against the clock: A regional diagnosis on where and how to protect 80 percent by 2025.”
The report’s conclusions are alarming, but they also provide a bit of hope, given that, although it’s an urgent task it’s an achievable one, with indigenous territories playing a key part in saving the region and preserving the planet’s largest fresh water reserve.
It’s a reserve that covers almost 40 percent of the territory in South America.
The findings in the report, prepared by the Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information (Raisg), were made public on Monday during the 5th summit of indigenous Amazon peoples, at which representatives of more than 500 indigenous peoples from the region are meeting in Lima under the auspices of the Amazon Basin Indigenous Organizations Coordinator (Coica).
On the one hand, the report warns that the Amazon rainforest is at the point of no return due to high rates of deforestation and degradation, which – combined – affect 26 percent of the region and where every day calculations are that 137 species go extinct.
“The levels of deforestation and forest fires are reducing the extension of the tropical forest, the hydric availability of the Amazon and, unfortunately, if measures are not taken before 2025, we believe that the impacts are going to be more acute by 2030,” Quintanilla said.
She emphasized that 90 percent of the combined deforestation and degradation are concentrated in Brazil and Bolivia, where “savannahization” is a real phenomenon, that is turning the rainforest into deforested grassland.
The study, for example, found that over the past two decades, annual rainfall has fallen off by 17 percent in the Bolivian Amazon region, where average temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees F) during that time.
On the other hand, 66 percent of the Amazon’s territory is subject to some kind of ongoing pressure, whether from legal or illegal threats that include petroleum exploitation, hydroelectric plants, mining and agricultural activities, the latter of which are responsible for 84 percent of the deforestation.
Quintanilla said that the prevailing legal frameworks are “defining, in practical terms, the fate of the Amazon,” creating the conditions whereby states issue licenses for assorted exploitative activities in intact forests or indigenous territories without the prior consent and without informing the native populations.
“The forest is viewed as unproductive land, and they say that to generate development livestock raising or agricultural activity must be increased and thus the value of the forest is being underestimated,” she said, insisting on the need for governments to start to view forest development as “a strategy for economic development.”
To comply with the global agreement adopted last September at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN) Congress, the report urges authorities to adopt measures to safeguard Intact Key Priority Areas (33 percent of the territory), Low Degradation Areas (41 percent) and to promote restoration of 6 percent of the lands where high degradation has taken – or is taking – place.
In that regard, it defends the need to consider indigenous territories as key allies, acknowledging their value and providing more national and international resources to protect certain areas in terms of conserving the ecosystems.
“This report shows, and this was not the intention, that the role of the indigenous territories is key for adapting to climate change … Recognition is the first step and allocating resources is an important step,” Quintanilla said, emphasizing the historic “debt” of local states to their protected territory.
Together, the protected areas and the indigenous territories cover about half (48 percent) of Amazonia, but 86 percent of the deforestation is occurring in the remaining 52 percent of the zone.
Among the most urgent things to be done, the study suggests, is to limit new licenses and financing for extractive activities in those regions and to urge the international community to immediately adopt policies to guarantee the ongoing flow of resources toward conserving and strengthening comprehensive management of indigenous territories.
If global efforts are made now, there is still time to save the world’s largest tropical forest and help it recover its regulatory ability vis-a-vis the developing climate emergency.