Although not much is said about it, degradation is one of the main causes of carbon loss in the Amazon. We explain you all about this phenomenon.
The most recent study of the Amazon Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information Network (RAISG), in partnership with the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC), and the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), reveals that, in the Amazon region, 47% of emissions come from degradation. For Carmen Josse, one of the authors of the study, this figure is worrisome as it is a topic "which has been virtually ignored".
To date, the objectives for monitoring carbon emissions from land-use change are focused on combating deforestation, so the images capture only the total removal of vegetation. As explained by Cícero Augusto, also author of the study and coordinator of geoprocessing at the Brazilian Socio-environmental Institute, "capturing the dynamics of degradation is very important to show how carbon loss is progressing within Indigenous Territories and Protected Areas".
But what is degradation and how is it different from deforestation?
Deforestation is the complete removal of vegetation cover to put something else in place. In satellite images it is called a clear cut. The main driver of deforestation is extensive livestock farming and commercial oil palm, rubber or soy agriculture.
Degradation is the reduction of forest health, it decreases the ability of forests to provide important ecosystem services such as protecting soils from erosion, regulating the water regime, capturing and storing carbon, produce oxygen, provide fresh water and habitat, and help reduce fire risk.
The causes of degradation
The factors that generate degradation are illegal logging, extraction of forest products and expansion of the agricultural frontier and grazing, which alter the composition and functioning of ecosystems. On the other hand, climate change is another source of forest degradation as high temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns increase the risk and severity of forest fires, pest infestation and diseases.
In the Amazon region, RAISG revealed that until 2016, 47% of emissions came from degradation, and the remaining 53% was caused by deforestation. However, in seven of the nine basin countries, forest degradation was the main cause of carbon emissions, ranging from 63% to 85% of losses in each country. This means that if we ignore the figures of Bolivia and Brazil, on average, among all countries, degradation was responsible for 75% of the emissions.
However, contrary to the trend of accelerated loss of land without protection, the Indigenous Territories and Natural Protected Areas suffer more from degradation than from deforestation. Among them, 75% of the emissions were from degradation, while outside these territories, emissions were associated by 66% with deforestation.
Forest degradation in the Amazon serves as a reminder that not all areas classified as forests are necessarily healthy or effective carbon sinks. Aslo, new tools and techniques are needed monitor and manage the forest’s health and integrity. In many cases, the drivers of degradation are originated outside protected territories, but cascade effects can occur within their borders.
Given its role in human well-being, the state of forests is important for life on the planet. That is why it is essential to monitor and evaluate forest degradation and its causes, so action can be taken to halt and reverse the process. Accurate, up-to-date and accessible information on the situation of forests will make possible to prioritize human and financial resources and policies to avoid further degradation, as well as to restore and rehabilitate affected forests.