The Amazon. A tropical paradise. Home to 10% of all known species on earth, 3,000 species of fish and 75% of plant species unique to the region alone. Spanning across 670 million hectares through nine countries, with 60% of the Amazon in Brazil, it is one of the world’s most magnificent natural wonders.
Since 1988, an area larger than Germany has been deforested in solely Brazil’s Amazon. The issue of deforestation has plagued the region for decades, and continues to do so even today. Despite the tireless work of governments, environmental activists, and new protected areas, the Amazon remains at risk.
Brazil alone is responsible for half the deforestation in the Amazon. In the past decade, deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon have decreased due to strict governmental enforcements. Yet the same cannot be said for parts of the Amazon across other South American countries. Throughout both Peru and Bolivia, the rates of forest loss continue to rise. Although Suriname, Guyuna and French Guiana are not included in the Amazonian river basin, their forests are still considered to be part of the Amazon. Across all three of these countries deforestation has drastically increased in recent years.
Every year, an amount of forest the size of New Jersey is removed from the Amazon, and 20% of the rainforest has already been destroyed. Scientists predict that an additional 20 percent of the Amazon will be lost over the next two decades if change is not instigated.
Numerous lamentable issues are responsible for deforestation in the Amazon. Cattle-ranching is one of the largest issues within the region. 60% of deforested land ends up being used for cattle; where beef, leather and other cattle products are manufactured. The practice of cattle-ranching has posed a threat to the region for decades, with industrial-scale soybean producers and loggers now also threatening the forest’s longevity. While untouched forestry holds little financial value, cleared pastureland reaps financial benefits.
In Peru, gold mining in the Madre de Dios region of the Amazon has rapidly increased due to international demand for gold. As a result, further destruction to both the forest and its indigenous communities occurs.
Although a number of initiatives have been taken by countries to prevent further forest loss, grileiros continue to destroy the Amazon. Grileiros, also known as land grabbers, are primarily responsible for the illegal invasion and destruction of the rainforest. While trying to clear land for financial incentives – and ruining the rainforest in the process – grileiros also instigate violence across the Amazonian countries, particularly in Brazil.
Currently, there are 3,000 indigenous territories covering roughly 208 million hectares in the Amazon. This represents 31% of the Amazon.
The enormous indigenous presence in this region has monumental benefits for the Amazon. Studies have found that indigenous based territories are better at protecting the area from deforestation, which suggests additional land should be demarcated. Not only do these regions directly fight land grabbers, but they also immediately report threats to authorities.
These benefits however, are not without their risks. In 2015, Brazil had the highest death toll for environmental killings in the world. Of the 50 victims, 40% were from indigenous groups. The following year, the number rose yet again to 61 killings. As of July this year, 45 people were already murdered in land conflicts while attempting to protect the Amazon.
Land conflicts are rooted in grileiros’ attempts to illegally devastate the land, and those who are willing die trying to protect it.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimates that by 2030, 27 percent of the Amazon biome will be destroyed if the deforestation rates do not ease. With international pressures for oil, gas, mining and gold increasing, these statistics are becoming increasingly difficult to reverse. Such mining operations also leave 70,000 indigenous Awajúns and Wampís at risk.
Not only does the Amazon endure enormous threats from mankind, but the ever-pressing issue of global warming impacts the rainforest further. The 2010 drought was the largest in the Amazonian basin in a century and the forest remains vulnerable to rising global temperatures.
Between 2014 and 2015, Brazil’s carbon emissions rose by 3.5 percent due to forest clearing. The country is one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. To combat this spike, Brazil has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 37% of their 2005 level by 2025. As for deforestation, the Brazilian government has vowed to eradicate illegal forest loss by 2030.