The Amazon is now Emitting More Carbon than it Absorbs

Joe Ronan

Joe Ronan

The Amazon rainforest is now emitting more carbon than it absorbs. This is a startling and unnerving bit of news. 

Once one of the world’s biggest carbon sink’s, we’re now at a stage when the sequestering skills of the rainforest are severely under threat. The time is now to protect rainforest.

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An image of the forest fires in 2019

The Amazon and carbon: the stark facts 

In a really quite disturbing bit of news, scientists this month have said that the Amazon rainforest is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it is able to absorb.

The total emissions amount to a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. These are shocking numbers. The Amazon, like the oceans, had previously been a carbon sink, sequestering carbon. Now the climate crisis means that is no longer the case. In a savage feedback loop, the Amazon itself is now contributing to its own destruction. 

Reports declare that most of the emissions are caused by fires. Most of these are in fact deliberately lit to clear land for beef and soy production. Added to this, we have hotter temperatures and droughts, which are a recipe for disaster.

It is thought that growing trees and plants have taken up about a quarter of all fossil fuel emissions since 1960, with the Amazon playing a major role as the largest tropical forest. We now face the possibility that the Amazon’s ability to capture CO2 is lost.

An image of the forest burning in the background

The reality is that this is stark and troubling news. Scientists across the world are in agreement: we need the Amazon and we need to protect its ability to protect us. 

What is truly worrying, is that one of the world’s most vital natural defence mechanisms against climate change, is under threat. Forests sequester and store carbon, taking it out of the air.

Luciana Gatti, at the National Institute for Space Research in Brazil and who led the research that has suggested the Amazon is no longer performing this role as a carbon sink, said:

“The first very bad news is that forest burning produces around three times more CO2 than the forest absorbs. The second bad news is that the places where deforestation is 30% or more show carbon emissions 10 times higher than where deforestation is lower than 20%.”

Fewer trees meant less rain and higher temperatures, making the dry season even worse for the remaining forest, she said: “We have a very negative loop that makes the forest more susceptible to uncontrolled fires.”

Amazon fires and cattle grazing

The need to defend our natural barriers against climate change

“Imagine if we could prohibit fires in the Amazon – it could be a carbon sink,” Gatti said. “But we are doing the opposite – we are accelerating climate change.”

This is the crucial point: imagine if we could prohibit fires in the Amazon. Well, we can. We need to fund and support the protection of our rainforests. 

We cannot afford to wait until new trees are planted, grow, and begin to sequester carbon. The brute reality is that without action now, to protect what we have already, we’re in trouble. Rainforests are the planet’s lungs. Let’s look after them.

Amazon rainforest burning

Looking after our lungs

One Tribe has helped our partners and their customers to protect 13,000,000 trees worldwide, many of which have been in the Amazon. 

We work with the Rainforest Trust to try and halt and reverse the processes that are destroying our rainforests. Clearly, we all need to be doing more: we need rainforests to be sequestering carbon, and not further contributing to global heating. 

Stopping Deforestation in Bolivia

One of our headline rainforest protection projects is about protecting Bolivian rainforest. The Bajo Paragua forest is located on the edge of the Amazon. Some 5-10% of the forest burned during the 2020 fire season, spilling over from the deforestation frontier just to the south. At this rate, the entire forest will be lost within a few years.

We want to fund the creation of the San Ignacio and Concepcion Municipal Protected Areas, safeguarding over 2 million acres of rich, lowland rainforest. But we need your help, just as the rainforests need ours!

Cattle grazing near fire

In conclusion

Clearly, the situation is bleak. The rainforests are no longer helping to remove carbon from the atmosphere, but this is a trend we can reverse. 

It will take us all, it will take proper funding of rainforest protection schemes, stopping deforestation in tropical rainforests will not be easy, but it is necessary, and it will be done. 

Check out how you can support our rainforest protection projects here.


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