A destruição que ninguém vê: The destruction no one sees

Written by Erika Berenguer, Joyce Ferreira, Toby A. Gardner and Jos Barlow

Wednesday, 08 June 2016 23:00

SEI 2016 oped Brazil forest degradationDeforestation in the Amazon: the land was completely cleared and turned into maize and soybean plantations. Photo by Erika Berenguer.

Deforestation is widely recognized as a threat to ecosystems and a driver of climate change. Yet forest degradation, which often goes unnoticed by governments and scientists, is also devastating.

Note: This article appears in the June 2016 issue of the magazine Ciência Hoje. Below we present the introduction in the original Portuguese, followed by a link to the full text and an English translation.

A perda de ecossistemas naturais é uma das maiores causas de emissões de gases-estufa no mundo, contribuindo mais para as mudanças climáticas do que todos os carros, aviões e navios do planeta juntos. Porém, muito menos conhecidos são os efeitos da degradação de áreas que ainda são ocupadas por sua vegetação natural.

Descobertas recentes mostram que essa degradação pode gerar enormes emissões de carbono até então despercebidas tanto pelo governo quanto pela comunidade científica. É uma destruição que ninguém vê.

Há mais de 30 anos, sabemos da taxa vertiginosa de desmatamento dos ecossistemas brasileiros, especialmente, da perda de áreas gigantescas na Amazônia. No entanto, entre 2004 e 2014, o desmatamento na região amazônica caiu 83%, o que contribuiu para o Brasil passar da posição de quarto maior poluidor do mundo para o sexto lugar.

Essa boa notícia pode nos dar a falsa impressão de que a batalha está ganha, mas, infelizmente, não é bem as­ sim. Primeiro, porque todo ano ainda perdemos cerca de 5 mil km2 de floresta amazônica, área quatro vezes maior do que a ocupada pela cidade do Rio de Janeiro. Segundo, porque outros biomas brasileiros, como o cerrado, a caatinga e a mata atlântica, continuam a enfrentar altas taxas de desmatamento. E, terceiro, porque o desmatamento das nossas florestas nativas é apenas parte do problema todo ano, a degradação florestal, causada pela atividade madeireira predatória e por incêndios rasteiros, afeta uma área maior do que aquela desmatada.


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Source: Ciência Hoje, Brazil
Language: Portuguese

 

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The loss of natural ecosystems is one of the top causes of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, contributing more to climate change than all the cars, airplanes and ships of the planet combined. Less well known are the effects of degradation of areas that are still covered by natural vegetation.

Recent findings show that this degradation can generate huge carbon hitherto unrecognized by the government and the scientific community. It is a destruction that no one sees.

For over 30 years, we have known the dizzying rate of deforestation of the Brazilian ecosystems, especially the loss of huge areas in the Amazon. However, between 2004 and 2014, deforestation in the Amazon fell by 83%, enabling Brazil to drop the fourth largest polluter in the world to sixth place.

This good news can give us the false impression that the battle is won, but unfortunately it is not. First, every year we still lose about 5,000 km2 of Amazonian forest, an area four times larger than the city of Rio de Janeiro. Second, because other Brazilian biomes, such as the cerrado, the savannah and the Atlantic rainforest, continue to face high rates of deforestation. And third, because the deforestation of our native forests is only part of the problem: every year, a larger area of forest is degraded by predatory logging and ground fires than is deforested.

SEI 2016 oped Brazil forest degradationA patch of degraded Amazon forest is visibly shorter and has more openings than an intact forest. Photo by Jos Barlow


Before proceeding, it is important to understand the difference between deforestation and forest degradation. Deforestation is when the vegetation cover of an area is completely removed – that is, when the forest is completely felled. Degradation refers to the process in which the forest is still standing, but its biodiversity and ecological functions, such as its carbon storage capacity, have been negatively affected.

Degradation can be due to both natural events (such as major landslides or wind storms) and human action (such as predatory logging) and is extremely difficult to be monitored. While a deforested area is easy to see because the complete absence of forest that existed there, monitoring the degradation requires looking into the forests to analyse their condition.

Given the difficulty of assessing which forest areas are affected or not, degradation impacts on the carbon stored there has not been well quantified, and therefore forest degradation has been continuously neglected in government conservation and climate change mitigation programmes.

But does the degradation really affect the carbon stored in the forest? After all, the forest is still there, standing. Yet appearances can be deceiving. The forest we found after degradation events is quite different from that which existed there before.


 

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