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The Amazon’s vicious cycles: drought and fire in the greenhouse - ecological and climatic tipping points of the world’s largest tropical rainforest, and practical preventive measures

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The Amazon forest greatly influences the global climate and may be coming under increasing threat due to climate change. This report explores the relationship between the Amazon, climate, and the changes in this relationship that are underway as a result of forest destruction and the release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The paper seeks to interpret the best information available to determine how close we are to a point of no return for a major forest “dieback” in the Amazon, and to identify some steps that might be taken to counter this process. The paper highlights the following on the link between the Amazon and the climate:

the Amazon forest complex is intimately connected to the world’s climate, acting as a giant consumer of heat, storing large amounts of carbon and discharging a large amounts of water into the ocean
climate change will probably reduce rainfall in eastern Amazonia by more than 20 per cent and increase the overall Amazon region’s temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsisus
current trends in agriculture and livestock expansion, fire, drought, and logging could clear or severely damage 55 per cent of the Amazon rainforest by the year 2030
extensive degradation of forest could be speeded through the synergistic influence of several vicious feedback loops that exist within and among the ecosystems and climate of the Amazon region
the ecological tipping point will be reached when fire-resistant native forests are degraded into fireprone brush through repeated forest damage from drought, logging, or fire
Amazon deforestation may accelerate in the future through two major trends: the growing world demand for soybeans, biofuel, and meat are increasing the profitability of agriculture and livestock production and the risk of accidental fire
large-scale degradation of Amazon forests could speed the global climatic disruption, influencing the rainfall in far-flung places around the planet

The report concludes that the conservation of the Amazon forest is necessary to stabalise the world’s climate and the stabalisation of the world’s climate is also necessary for Amazon forest conservation. The report highlights several opportunities to reverse current trends:

the growing demand for higher environmental performance that is evident among the buyers and financiers of agricultural commodities could move the Amazon agro-industrial and livestock sectors towards greater compliance with the law and the adoption of best agricultural practices
forest recovery and tree crop establishment on degraded lands can restore transpiration and buffer regional climate against extreme climate events
sustainable timber management involving “reduced impact” logging techniques represents an important economic alternative to deforestation-dependent farming and ranching
merely implementing existing land-use policies and programmes within the Brazilian Amazon and extending these policies and programmes to other Amazon countries could reduce deforestation by half.