March 22, 2006
PARIS (AFP) - Cattle ranchers and soybean farmers will destroy four-tenths of Brazil's Amazonian forest by 2050 on present trends, threatening biodiversity and adding hugely to the global warming problem, a study says.
The paper, published on Thursday in Nature, the British weekly science journal, says that the Brazilian government's conservation strategies fall far short of what is needed to prevent escalating destruction.
"Expansion of the cattle and soy industries in the Amazon basin has increased deforestation rates and will soon push all-weather highways into the region's core," say the authors, led by Britaldo Silveira Soares-Filho of the University of Minas Gerais.
"By 2050, current trends in agricultural expansion will eliminate a total of 40 percent of Amazon forests, including at least two-thirds of the forest cover of six major watersheds and 12 ecoregions.
"(...) One quarter of the 382 mammalian species examined will lose more than 40 percent of the forest within their Amazon ranges."
Trees and vegetation that have been chopped down will, through decay or burning, surrender their stock of carbon dioxide (CO2) -- the "greenhouse gas" that plants store up as a natural process of growth.
Eventually, between 25 and 40 billion tonnes of CO2 will be released to the atmosphere from the 40-percent forest loss, the researchers warn. By comparison, annual global emissions of CO2, mainly from burning oil, gas and coal, are around seven billion tonnes.
Destruction of the forest would also have big repercussions on regional and global weather systems, which are linked to the heat and precipitation cycles of the vast Amazon region
The authors call on Brazil to establish publicly protected parks throughout Amazonia to help brake the loss.
And, they say, Brazil should require farmers to meet guidelines certifying that they are managing their land in a sustainable way. Failure to do so would cause them to lose access to lucrative international markets for beef and soya.