11th September – The Amazon fires, an alarm that lacks proportion

The upsurge of global environmental anxiety over the recent spate of forest fires in the Amazon, apparently marking a renewed push to deforestation, is clearly testimony to the heightened awareness of the danger to human security represented by global warming.

The Amazon fires

Global warming – Basic facts –

  • As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes in its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the cumulative net addition of carbon to the earth system from terrestrial ecosystems since 1750 amounts to 30 Gigatonne (Gt) with an uncertainty of plus or minus 45 Gt.
  • In the words of the IPCC in the AR5: “The net balance of all terrestrial ecosystems, those affected by land-use change and the others, is thus close to neutral since 1750.”
  • Though cumulative emissions from land-use change since 1750 amounted to almost 180 Gt, driven largely by the more than six-fold expansion of cropland, they were compensated by the 160 Gt of absorption by existing vegetation not subject to land-use change.
  • Fossil fuel use, in contrast, contributed 375 Gt since 1750, that is more than 12 times that of the net cumulative emissions from terrestrial ecosystems.

Amazon Rainforests –

  • By one scientific estimate, the Amazon, in 1980, stored 128 Gt of carbon, with 94 Gt in vegetation and 33 Gt in the reactive component of soil carbon.
  • Brazil has also put in substantial effort over the last decade to slow down deforestation, with some notable success, reducing it by 2013 to 75% of its pre-2005 annual average, success that was hailed globally.

Responsibility to protect –

  • As a 2018 report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has noted, the developed countries (excluding the former Soviet bloc nations whose emissions plummeted along with their economies) have achieved a reduction of only 1.3% over 26 years from 1990.
  • The only way to maintain the Paris Agreement’s promise, that they brokered, of restricting global warming to well below 2° C or indeed 1.5°C is by turning the screws on mitigation in the non-industrial sectors.

Way forward –

The Amazon and other terrestrial ecosystems offer much-needed room to maneuver in dealing with global warming. But without reducing fossil fuel emissions drastically and the global North paying back its carbon debt by taking the lead, there can be little hope of meeting the climate challenge.

SourceThe Hindu

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