“The Amazon could make or break our fight against climate change”. A devastating drought in the Amazon is clearly linked to the climate crisis, posing a grave threat to the world's largest carbon store.
A recent study reveals that the unprecedented drought that struck the Amazon rainforest in 2023, reaching the maximum "exceptional" level on the scientific scale, was intensified by the ongoing climate crisis. The research underscores the critical impact of global heating on extreme weather events, particularly in a region already on the brink of ecological tipping points.
Regina Rodrigues, a professor at Santa Catarina University, Brazil, says the Amazon plays a pivotal role in the battle to limit climate change – and warns failure to protect the vital rainforest and move away from fossil fuels could trigger a world catastrophe.
“The Amazon could make or break our fight against climate change” she said, calling for immediate action.
“If we protect the forest, it will continue to act as the world’s largest land-based carbon sink. But if we allow human-induced emissions and deforestation to push it through the tipping point, it will release large amounts of CO2. We need to protect the rainforest and move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible”
Analysis indicates that without emissions from fossil fuels, the drought's severity would have been significantly reduced. Global heating was identified as the primary factor, making the extreme drought 30 times more likely to occur. Although the return of the El Niño climate phenomenon contributed to drier conditions, its role was secondary.
The Amazon, already close to a tipping point into a drier state, faces a potential mass die-off of trees. This could unleash large amounts of carbon dioxide, further escalating global temperatures.
Millions of Amazon residents are grappling with the aftermath, experiencing record-low river levels, drinking water shortages, failed crops, and power cuts due to drying hydroelectric plants. The drought has also exacerbated wildfires and led to a mass loss of river life, including the tragic deaths of over 150 endangered pink river dolphins in a single week.
Simphiwe Stewart, a researcher at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, highlights the unprecedented nature of the drought, with communities forced into extensive journeys to access essential goods. Urgent government interventions are deemed necessary to prepare for escalating drought conditions in the warming climate.
The analysis, employing peer-reviewed methods, compares today's climate with a cooler, pre-industrial era, indicating that global heating is reducing rainfall and increasing heat in the Amazon. Destruction of the rainforest for beef and soy production in recent decades has exacerbated the situation by diminishing the land's capacity to retain water.
As the study estimates the extreme drought of 2023 to become more frequent with further global heating, the urgency to protect the Amazon and address climate change intensifies. The fate of this critical carbon sink hinges on swift, comprehensive actions to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis and prevent irreversible ecological damage.